Uhuru Kenyatta has been sworn in for a second five-year term as president of Kenya in a colourful ceremony that few believe will signal the end of political instability in the east African country.
Kenyatta, 56, won a rerun presidential election last month boycotted by the opposition, which said it would not be free and fair.
As the president appeared before the 60,000-strong crowd in Nairobi’s Kasarani stadium for the inauguration, at least three people were reported killed as police fired rifles and teargas to break up supporters gathered a few miles away to hear Raila Odinga, the main opposition leader.
Odinga, 75, spoke briefly before being forced into a car by volleys of teargas from police. He told the crowd he would be “sworn in as president” by his own supporters later this month and called Kenyatta’s government “illegitimate”.
The political turmoil in east Africa’s richest and most developed economy was triggered when Kenya’s Supreme Court nullified the first presidential election in August over irregularities. Turnout in the rerun was only 39 per cent. Kenyatta won with a crushing majority.
The Supreme Court was again asked to dismiss the result, but this time upheld Kenyatta’s victory.
Supporters wearing the red and yellow of the ruling Jubilee party, many carrying Kenyan flags, filled the stadium terraces and cheered wildly as the incumbent president was sworn into office and as he received a 21-gun salute.
Thousands of others waited outside. Some overwhelmed police and streamed in. Officers were forced to fire teargas to control them.
“I … do swear … that I will always truly and diligently serve the people of the Republic of Kenya,” Kenyatta said with his hand on a Bible that had been used to swear in his father, founding President Jomo Kenyatta, at independence in 1963.
Kenyatta, a US-educated multimillionaire, said the past few months “have been a trying time”, and he called for an end to hate and divisiveness.
“The elections are now firmly behind us … I will devote my time and energy to build bridges.”
He again criticised the Supreme Court’s nullification of his August election win, saying that “despite … being told that the processes matter more than your vote, we complied.”
But he added that the court, whose justices he once called “crooks” for their ruling, acted with independence, and he said recent events showed that “our constitution is no piece of paper”. Institutions should not be destroyed whenever they don’t deliver the desired results, he added.
The ceremony was attended by heads of state from across east Africa.
Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, who is on a visit to Kenya, pulled out of the ceremony over “security concerns”.
Supporters of Kenyatta said they wanted the opposition to engage in talks and move on.
“I’m sure Uhuru will be able to bring people together and unite them so we can all work for the country,” said Eunice Jerobon, a trader who travelled overnight from the Rift Valley town of Kapsabet for the inauguration.
Kenya is more polarised and divided that at any time since ethnic violence killed more than a thousand people in 2008, observers say.
The former British colony is a patchwork of dozens of ethnic groups where political competition for resources often exacerbates existing ill-feeling between communities.
Opposition supporters clash with police in the Jacaranda grounds quarter in Nairobi
Odinga’s supporters, many drawn from poorer parts of the country, believe they have been marginalised for decades. They accuse the ruling party of stealing the election, rampant corruption, directing abuse by the security forces and neglecting vast swaths of the country, including Odinga’s heartland in the west.
“A return to the political backwardness of our past is more than unacceptable. It is intolerable. This divide cannot be bridged by dialogue and compromise,” Odinga’s National Super Alliance said in a statement.
However, analysts say the opposition is running low on funds and has lost access to political power through the crisis. “There is not much the opposition can really do. People get tired of going on the streets and physically putting their lives on the line. It feels as if we have reached something of a full stop,” said Rebekka Rumpel, a Kenya expert at Chatham House in London.
Thoughts are turning to the next elections, which Kenyatta cannot contest. “The underlying causes have not gone away. The next period will be marked by high-level jockeying for position for 2022,” Rumpel said.
Kenyatta was educated at a private school in Nairobi and at Amherst College in the US, and is regarded as a leader of the Kikuyu people, the country’s single largest ethnic group.
He is married with three children and regularly attends Catholic Church. In 2011, Forbes magazine estimated Kenyatta’s wealth at $500m (€423m).
Kenyatta’s first term was defined by big spending on eye-catching infrastructure and impressive economic growth in a tough climate. But this has gone hand-in-hand with spiralling debt and widening inequality.
Terrorism has also been a consistent threat, with Kenyatta forced to address the nation after bloody attacks in 2013 and 2015.