Kenya: Coalition Politics Should Be Strong Enough to Advance Our Democracy

The shift in focus to alliances ahead of the 2022 General Election highlight the fact that Kenya is yet to entrench party ideology as the basis of political contestation. If you take a keen look at the frontrunners for the presidency, it gives a picture of people who were once together in one political party or coalition but have since shifted alliances.

Political coalitions keep reinventing themselves by joining new partnerships ahead of the next polls. They are mere vehicles to power, hence the high turnover. This is fuelled by the selfish agenda of their leaders, whose greed makes them ever willing to jump to the next available outfit.

In other multiparty democracies, such as the United States, you would imagine that the actual term should be a dual-party state -- a bifurcation of the "red" and "blue" states. But there are several other parties, such as the Reform, Libertarian and Socialist, which exist in the US and even field candidates at all levels.

The American system has, however, deliberately allowed the two well-known parties to dominate its politics, therefore providing a kind of stability and predictability that is not found anywhere else. And so, in every election, for every electoral seat, you are either a Democrat or a Republican.

Emulated the US

Closer to home, Tanzania has, over the years, emulated the US. You are either CCM or Chadema; anything in between is inconsequential. Similarly, in Ghana, presidential contestation is between two major political parties: New Patriotic Party (NPP) and National Democratic Convention (NDC).

Kenya's National Super Alliance (Nasa) missed the chance to usher that brand of party politics when it formed an alliance of strange bedfellows. It's crucial to say that coalition politics thrives in a purely parliamentary system of governance. Often, post-election coalitions last longer than pre-election ones.

That is how Angela Merkel swept into power. That is how Labour lost its stranglehold of the United Kingdom. And, most recently, that is what made us say goodbye to Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel. Such cannot be said of Kenya. In the run-up to the 2002 elections, the anti-Uhuru Kenyatta stalwarts teamed up to form the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) as a joint vehicle to power. They did not only beat Mr Kenyatta at the presidency but also floored him in Parliament.

Repeated the Narc trick

That was to be a model for coalition politics. But, as the nature of Kenyan politics, betrayals happened and Narc disintegrated into smaller parties ahead of the 2007 elections.

Fifteen years later, those who were on the losing side in 2002 repeated the Narc trick and formed Jubilee Party, collapsing their village parties along the way. But instead of reading the signs, the Nasa principals -- Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula -- stuck to their old parties and went separate ways, only converging because they had a common enemy.

Had Nasa been a party, they probably would have doubled the number of MPs and MCAs they got. In 'swing' regions, Jubilee won because of the 'sibling rivalry' among Nasa affiliate parties. And there is why they lost the war.

Fast-forward to the current politicking for next year's general election and you realise how slow learners we are as a country. Strangely, nobody in Nasa is talking of doing things differently. In Africa, they say it is easier for the opposition to win elections if the incumbent is not on the ballot. President Kenyatta's term ends next year, presenting an opportunity for Nasa to win the elections.

President Kenyatta is on record as saying he will support one of the Nasa principals for the top seat and called for their unity. However, the infighting and political jostling among the Nasa affiliate parties does not do them any good.


Perhaps, the most notorious of them is the highhandedness of ODM Secretary-General Edwin Sifuna, who has been all over the medial spewing garbage about other Nasa affiliate parties and leaders.

The country needs two strong political parties that face off with each other at the ballot. That will eliminate overcrowding the political arena with parties where we end up not concentrating on the issues that the candidates should be putting forth as their agenda.

Mr Amin teaches diplomacy and foreign policy at The East African University. aminnuh@

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