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Opposition Leader Raila Odinga On Kenya's Election


Now let's report on a crisis in Kenya. The man at the center of it is Raila Odinga. He's an opposition leader. He has been a presidential candidate. A presidential election was held once and was supposed to be rerun after irregularities, rerun tomorrow, but Odinga has withdrawn from that contest and says it will not happen. NPR's Eyder Peralta interviewed Odinga this morning.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: I meet Raila Odinga at his home in Karen, a leafy suburb of Nairobi. It's a day before presidential elections that the government says will happen, but Odinga seems confident of just the opposite.

RAILA ODINGA: I think what is going to happen tomorrow is a charade. They call it an election, but as far as we're concerned, there will be no elections tomorrow in the republic of Kenya.

PERALTA: Of course, words like that set up a serious standoff in this country. The government says they have the security and the constitutional mandate to hold an election. So if Odinga and President Uhuru Kenyatta don't walk away from the precipice, Kenya can descend into a spiral of violence. Right before my interview with Odinga, an opposition member of parliament told me that the world should know they were, quote, "preparing for war." I asked Mr. Odinga if he thought things were that dire.

ODINGA: I think the time comes in the history of a country when people have to stand up and say no to impunity.

PERALTA: Last week the head of the electoral commission said he would not stand by and watch the country burn. He warned Kenyans that the same powerful men who were sending them out to die on the streets had the means to fly their families to safety. I asked Raila Odinga how he reconciles that, how he calls for rallies knowing that Kenyans will likely be killed. He blames the government. It's unfortunate, he says, they react to protests with such brutal force.

ODINGA: The people really have no choice. Either you recoil into submission and let the powerful have their way, and then you will always be in servitude. Or you resist an attempt to subjugate you into servitude by asserting their rights. I think that the people have no other choice.

PERALTA: Odinga has a pessimistic view of Kenya today. He believes the current government is eroding basic rights and driving Kenya back into a one-party state. His critics say he is overstating the government's positions and unnecessarily driving the country into crisis. But Odinga sees this as what he calls a third liberation of Kenya. Whatever happens tomorrow, he says, will be a defining moment but by no means an end.

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Nairobi. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Eyder Peralta is NPR's East Africa correspondent based in Nairobi, Kenya.