16 August 2009
This is a guest article by Maingi Solomon. Maingi is a graduate student at Ohio University.
Cohabitation is usually a temporary arrangement which is meant to achieve certain collective short-term interests. Political cohabitation is not peculiar to the world or Africa. It is indeed an integral part of the history of politics and political power. If we open our eyes to the Rome of the 50s BC for example, we see a period of political disaster. The Roman senate failed to counter the first triumvirate which was an informal alliance of Pompey, Crassus, and Julius Caesar. Gang warfare was commonplace in Rome and holding elections was almost impossible. After Crassus was killed in the Roman defeat in 53 BC at the hands of Parthians, Pompey and Caesar fell out. In 49 BC Caesar, later to be assassinated in 44 BC, crossed the Rubicon and marched on Rome starting a civil war that lasted three years. After his assassination there was a fresh round of civil war between the assassins and the Caesarian party led by Antony and Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son Octavian. The defeat of Brutus and Cassius in the civil war gave way to the second triumvirate (Antony, Octavian, and the aristocratic general Lepidus).
I would say that this sounds like today’s Kenya. During the run up to the 2002 national elections, opposition leaders knew that the only way to defeat KANU (Kenya African National Union) was through a united opposition. In early 2002, even before the then president Daniel Arap Moi announced that the KANU candidate would be Uhuru Kenyatta; Mwai Kibaki, Michael Wamalwa, and Charity Ngilu formed the National Alliance for Change which was later registered as the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK). Many were skeptical about the ability of the three leaders to come up with a single presidential candidate to counter Moi’s choice. However, if they were willing to swallow their pride the other question was how would they convince party supporters to support the single chosen candidate? The dismissal of the then Vice-President George Saitoti and the defection of powerful ethnic leaders from KANU to form the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) significantly weakened the party. KANU’s ethnic formula crashed.
When LDP and NAK merged before the 2002 elections to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), a win for the opposition was almost inevitable. The fronting of Kibaki as NARC’s captain was widely seen as a move to split the Gikuyu vote between him and Uhuru. Therefore, the formation of NARC and the fronting of Kibaki was solely a strategy to win the elections. NARC was controlled by a bunch of powerful ethnic chiefs who led the party and had made a power sharing Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) which was supposed to be honored in the sharing of spoils after the anticipated win. According to the MOU, Kibaki, the president, was supposed to be one among equals in the NARC SUMMIT, the most powerful organ of the party. The biggest problem with the MOU was that it was not legally binding. When Kibaki became president, he trashed the MOU and therefore fell out with the NARC SUMMIT.
Long before Troy burned, several Achaean princes including Achilles, Agamemnon, Menelaus and Odysseus were attracted to the beautiful Helen. These men however understood one thing: that only one of them could marry her. When Menelaus won her, they swore to destroy whoever tried to take Helen from him. So when Paris stole Helen from Menelaus, his fate was sealed. When Kibaki trashed the MOU, his fate was sealed. In doing so, did he sacrifice some Kenyan lives to save himself from his nemesis?
Towards the end of December 2007, Kenya held a historic flawed election. This election was characterized by delaying of counting results for certain regions which were considered strategic for some parties, and sometimes surprisingly exaggerated voter turnout in some regions which implied that even the dead had risen to vote in this historic election. Party of National Unity (PNU) was hastily declared the winner and president Kibaki was hastily sworn in at state house in the evening at 4pm. We all know that Kibaki knew that this was dangerous. The country degenerated into violence in the days that followed. For more than a month, Kenyans turned against each other, the police and other government security agents turned against Kenyans, the politicians cheered! It was time to spill some blood and settle some ‘historical injustices’. That was foolish but the lessons were valuable. After these happenings, a second GNU was born in Kenya.
The desperation of both the (PNU) and the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) to win the 2007 vote was driven by greed on the one hand and the desire to settle political scores on the other. It should be remembered that Kibaki’s failure to honor the MOU led to a constitutional campaign that was more focused on individuals than institutions. Those who argued for a powerful president did so with Kibaki in mind while those who argued for a ceremonial president and an executive prime minister did so with Raila in mind. When the people finally rejected the constitution in the referendum, Kibaki fired the LDP group which had spearheaded the opposition to the manipulated constitution. This group regrouped to form the Orange Democratic Party of Kenya (which later split to form ODM and ODM-Kenya).
Politics in Kenya has been dangerously ethnicized. All policies, appointments and other key decisions of government are made with ethnicity in mind without consideration of qualifications. Due to this polarization, for any party to win the general election, it must have an ethnic formula. These ethnic formulae usually bring together ‘tribal chieftains’ who are supposed to provide the numbers from these communities in exchange for a strategic position in government and at least some hope of clinching the ultimate post some day, The Presidency. Governments made out of these arrangements are often unstable because if a chieftain decides to withdraw support for the government, most of the members of parliament from that community will also withdraw. Unfortunately, NAK, NARC, LDP, ODM and PNU were all made with this formula in mind. Under this political climate how can we expect justice for the thousands of Kenyans who became the sacrificial lamb of the political violence of 2008? Even more compelling to ask, how can we build national reconciliation for the future generations if the pillars of governance are so deeply polarized?
After the end of the Moi era, Kenya has conducted two elections which have led to two coalition governments. Both of these governments have been deemed failures. The first one was a friendly Government of National Unity (GNU) made by political cons while the second was forced by ‘extraordinary circumstances’ which were not so extraordinary as they were planned. These coalitions have brought together politicians with voting blocs who view each other as equals and so the front runner only gets the presidency for the group. The current crop of politicians was all Moi’s students who were always controlled by him. In Moi’s absence, these politicians act like a herd of goats without the herder. This is because although Moi played ethnic politics, he was a powerful dictator who maintained control over his ethnic point-men. All his ethnic front-men feared and adored him and they were rewarded for that. During the Moi regime, he was equal to the presidency and all the power was accorded to him. When and how Kenya is going to have a leader who will represent the people of Kenya and not a bunch of greedy people who eat on behalf of their communities, only God knows. By all means winning political power in Kenya should not be like winning the adoration of the beautiful Helen of Ancient Rome of which all the men of Rome fought for, and certainly not worth the lives of Kenyans slaughtered in political plunder.
How can we break this dangerous chain of masters and apprentices? These questions are not only critical for Kenya but for the questionable fruits of the arranged marriage of Mugabe and Tsvangirai in Zimbabwe, even more so for the poor Zimbabweans who lost their lives and votes, without an option to pick which position most suited them in the cabinet. How does their justice look like if the governments of national unity are only the marriages of elites? As the Romans would say ‘cui bono’ (to whose benefit)? For whose interests are all these marriages if certainly not for the nation? And most importantly, can we trust them to abide by the mandate of the TRC or a special Tribunal should either be finally restored, and honestly bring truth, justice and reconciliation to their citizens?