According to Reuters, Kofi Annan, reporting on progress at this week’s talks, also said it was essential for the parties to form a “broad coalition” to agree on constitutional and electoral reforms going forward.
There has been optimism during the arduous task that Kofi Annan has taken upon himself in ensuring a peaceful transition and one with accord to propel Kenya from the post-election quagmire. This optimism is contagious and is slowly affecting me. However, I still retain that a lot has to be considered and changed within the political environment between those involved and Kenyans in general. This is based on an analysis of the facts surrounding the nature and evolution of political parties in post-independence Kenya.
Political Parties: A History
After independence Kenya came up with a constitution that vested enormous powers in the presidency. This included all executive power and he could appoint and fire ministers, senior administrative officers and heads of parastatal organisations. The president was also the leader of the ruling party and equally wielded enormous powers. As a result presidents were habitually re-elected, a phenomenon we now see in most of Africa of perpetual incumbency.
Post-independence KANU, especially under the rule of Moi, had always opposed a multi-party democracy using every means possible; from constitutional changes to the provincial administration, the registrar of societies, the attorney-general and courts of laws, the police and hired KANU youth wingers. In 1982, the attempts by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and George Anyona to found their own party was dealt with by a Constitution Amendment Act outlawing any legal opposition. Moi used the 1982 Coup attempt to rally loyal ethnic followers especially in the military and the police by purging it of those who would be a threat to him, successfully ethnicising it: a preacher of condemnation of ethnicism but in reality a champion of one. Detentions, deaths of more than 200 people and disappearances, the massacre of more than 3000 Somali Muslims at Wagalla airstrip by the military, all point to this fact.
Other civil society groups and organisations that Moi perceived would turn political were banned, this extending to the budding football clubs of Gor Mahia and AFC Leopards. He essentially and effectively killed opposition from civil society, leaving one full of fear, one that could not be a base for effective grounding of political parties.
During the 1990 period however, and with reference to May 1990, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia were the names behind the campaigns opposing single party rule (eventually detained for their efforts) and offered much hope in multi-party political arena. December 1991 however brought Moi’s accession to change and reintroduction of multi-party politics, albeit due to extreme pressure and riots.
Matiba and Rubia’s efforts resulted in the formation of a broad coalition FORD (Forum for the Restoration of Democracy). This barely lasted a year before breaking up into FORD-Kenya headed by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and FORD-Asili by Kenneth Matiba, the latter which brokered a KNC (Kenya National Congress) spin off from it. A Prof. Abdilatif Abdala, advising one of the protagonists, would later say that they were too busy after the lifted sanction, euphorically forming (naming) political parties than laying ground for formation of political ideologies that would give strong foundations to their parties. And so political parties were formed, fragmented, spun off from each other without any guiding political principle.
“Maendeleo” (development(s)) was the catch phrase that the political parties used to woo Kenyan voters. However since lessons from the the then ruling party had taught the populace that ‘maendeleo’ essentially meant a patronage of state resources that would veer into their direction, they swallowed it hook, line and sinker, for want of being among the beneficiaries. It was a reward system that could be understood as an ethnic economic advantage as seen during the Kenyatta’s KANU regime, soon followed by the Moi’s KANU regime. This fragmentation of parties would also mean that the minds of the politicians likewise would veer in that direction each only sure about the potential votes of his community. Their expectations were of course, to be proven unrealistic.
Meanwhile, Moi was having a ball. Having the hindsight of these events, he took advantage of this fragmentation and introduced in July 1992, the 25% rule Bill, which stipulated that a winning candidate at the presidential election garners 25% in at least 5 of the 8 electoral provinces. Moi’s calculation here was that the opposition could be manipulated into disintegration along ethnic lines, making it impossible for it to beat KANU, a fact. This led to a disillusionment of the political class, distanced from objective reality, cutting deals with Moi to stay in power, thus weakening any political parties in the opposition. The ethnicity still stayed strong, and as long as they were trapped in their ethnic cocoons, Moi was happy. NDP had its support among the Luo, DP among the Kikuyu, Ford Kenya among the Luhya, the rest too small to bother him.
1997 general elections would see a realisation by KANU that the situation was not as rosy, that they would have to initiate an attempt at coalition talks with other parties. This change was brought about by James Orengo‘s “Muungano wa Mageuzi” (Coalition for change), an across the ethnic strata group with similar agenda-demystifying the ideas of regional lords, and had extremely high popularity and support from the university student political groups. It was considered a serious threat. KANU sought out Kibaki’s Democratic Party (DP), then later on Odinga’s National Democratic Party (NDP). Mageuzi did raise a lot of hell, captured the public but failed. It lacked the essential ingredient of organising ideology, did not propel a leader effectively, and their goal of overhauling the state by mass revolt insurrection failed. Orengo killed it further by being too quick in shifting to Social Democratic Party (SDP).
President Moi casts his vote in the December 1997 election (c) BBC
Pre-2002 general election saw the emergence of “Breakfast coalition talks” by FORD Kenya (Wamalwa Kijana), DP (Mwai Kibaki) and NPK (Charity Ngilu) as a united front to get rid of Moi. These however were not fruitful because each of the three (with pressure from their constituents) wanted to vie for presidency and neither was ready to give in to another. However,it was enough to ruffle KANU’s feathers. Moi’s anointed successor Uhuru Kenyatta (who would enable him to continue in the post of party chairman) and it was at this point that he saw he was fighting a losing battle when he was heckled and pelted with stones in Nyanza, Nairobi and Western Province in his campaign endeavors for Uhuru. Finally the coalition of opposition around NARC with Mwai Kibaki as opposition candidate won the day, with an eventually small opposition in Kanu.
Moi and Uhuru Kenyatta by Gado
NARC evolved structures that would help organise her campaign. It set up what become known as the Summit which exemplified the emerging coalition of social groups in Kenya for national unity.
It also came up with a memorandum of understanding binding the winner to practice politics of inclusion and consultation with the other senior members of the coalition. The two NAK and Rainbow coalition partners were to share positions at a ratio of 50-50.
According to a Friedrich-Ebert Publication: To the entire nation, it was apparent that while Mwai Kibaki would be president, Raila Odinga would emerge Prime Minister following a speeded up constitution drafting process. Had the promises been honoured , it would have meant the diffusion of power among various actors and by inference the regions. However, once elections were over, and this faction had gained power, the motivation to honour their pledges dissipated. Facilitating this was the fact that the so-called Memorandum of Understanding which was negotiated outside existing state structures and was based on a mere trust, something rare among a begrudged elite faction used to politics of exclusivism. Before long the Ethnic group becomes veritable competitor to the State in its attempts to command loyalty. Unfortunately, this accentuates divisions among different ethnic groups. To cut across ethnic divide, elite merely seek to organize alliances which seek to facilitate the capture of power and in the process, access to State resources. With NARC dead, an effort towards putting into place a new coalition of parties was in the offing in the name of Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
Understanding the nature of current political parties: The case of ODM
According to Mukoma wa Ngugi, asking some of the people commentating on Kenya about the differences within ODM, whether it’s a coalition or a party with a single vision, who are the main players, and the implications for peace, will yield shallow answers. Its indescribable according to an ideology, nothing compared to the clear cut differences as exist in the case say of US internal politics in the Democratic Party’s Hillary and Osama. He continues to ask “How can we agitate for peace when we do not understand the nature of the parties involved?”
There are three competing elements within ODM: the activist-intellectual left(Prof. AnyangAnyang’ Nyong’o and Salim Lone), the Moi-ist retrogressives (William Ruto), and the populists (Raila Odinga). The Moi-ist retrogressives have cost ODM a lot of political mileage. They are seen as having been responsible for ethnic violence that in 1992 and 1997 left hundreds dead and thousands displaced in the Rift Valley. The recent Eldoret church burning and cleansing took place in Ruto’s constituency. William Ruto is leading the ODM delegation in the Kofi Annan mediated talks. Raila has a solid Luo support base and youth appeal across ethnicity. Had ODM not run a campaign along ethnic fault lines, his support amongst the poor would have been solidified. Raila has all the contradictions that come with populism. Populists prefer loud rallies and protests. They want to draw violence from the state because the consequent anger unites the people and earns then international political mileage. Populists also like to “shock and awe” but end up sending mixed calls.
Mukoma further notes that a closer analysis of the two political parties finds that they are mirror image of each other. They both represent the elite of their different ethnicities, and they manipulate ethnicity to hide their bankruptcy. The prevailing ideology is ethnocracy.
He says that at the very least both the government and the opposition need to let their respective Moi-ist retrogressives go. When both sides are not swayed by the extremists, a return to the center where sanity prevails will be possible, and a political solution within grasp.
The lessons to be drawn from the Kenyan experience are several and include the observation that political parties in East Africa are generally fragile, lack a national outlook, are not driven by clearly differing ideologies in the context of the same State, and woefully lack a viable resource base. Kenya needs a fresh start in conceiving, feeding and maturing political parties that differentiated from each other in terms of ideology, a critical fact that would take them away from the current ethno-based party quagmire they are entrenched into. We need political parties not ethno-representatives.
When Kenya gained independence, it was with a multi-party constitution under the „Majimbo“ (federal) system. It slowly evolved into a one party sytem by 1969 under the leadership of the flamboyant orator Mr. Jomo Kenyatta. These oratorical skills were of importance back then in the denouncing of the colonial ills, and these he wielded with shrewdness that has never been challenged in the region. The aspect of majimbos fell apart when he made Kenya a republic looking out for prosperity of all Kenyan people after 1963 elections which KANU won. The then existing opposition KADU and APP were drawn into the fold reducing Kenya to a one party system meaning that there were no checks on the powers of the executive that a multi-party system does. This led to a centralisation of all political and economic power around him.
Jomo Kenyatta (middle) and Daniel Arap Moi (second from the left) before Independence
His ideology of a government of political unity survived unscathed 1966. The Limuru Conference in 1966 was the turning point in the blind following of the ideology when it was questioned by Mr. Oginga Odinga and the newly formed Kenya People’s Union (KPU) . Odinga’s ideology was dismissed by the government with chants of Uhuru na Kazi (independence and work) as the lazy Socialist (Marxist). October 1969, during the opening of a hospital in Nyanza, Kenyatta was booed and heckled (a serious shock to him). The presidential escort fired live ammunition into the crowd (what is known today as the Kisumu massacre) killing 11 people. This ideological conflict between Kenyatta and Odinga and the aftermath was quickly transposed into a ethnic rift. This rift was widened and solidified by the assassination of Tom Mboya who was a political hero amongst the Luos and also supported in poor Kikuyu areas, allegedly by the government which was then considered a Kikuyu turf.
Tom Mboya in London for the Lancaster House Conference on the Kenya Constitution, January 1960. © Corbis.