Why Uhuru's coalition project is good for multi-party democracy

Those complaining after they miss the train should initiate their alternative alliances.

In Summary

• What President Kenyatta is engaging in by forming  coalitions is not new nor is it politically sinful

• That’s the nature of political competition in a multiparty democracy, such asas Kenya.

CCM leader Isaac Rutto, Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka and Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe at Jubilee headquarters in Pangani, Nairobi, on June 17.
PARTNERS: CCM leader Isaac Rutto, Wiper boss Kalonzo Musyoka and Jubilee vice chairman David Murathe at Jubilee headquarters in Pangani, Nairobi, on June 17.

The last few weeks have witnessed heightened efforts in political party alliance building.

It started as a response to Deputy President William Ruto’s domination of the Jubilee Party in the National Assembly and the Senate, having his allies — Kipchumba Murkomen and Aden Duale — as the Majority leaders in the Senate and the National Assembly, respectively. This was unsettling for President Uhuru Kenyatta, who needed to champion his legacy agenda.

Parliament, with the previous pro-Ruto leadership, posed a big challenge to the Big Four agenda and the BBI process. Ruto’s allies in Parliament had become so bold that they  publicly dared the President to “bring it on," in the words of Nominated Senator Millicent Omanga, posing a threat to the agenda.


He wasn't going to take it lying down, yet he lacked the numbers. He required more numbers than Raila’s ODM could deliver on a promise.

As Uhuru’s coalition and alliance building project gathered momentum, there was a hue and cry.

Opponents said he was killing multi-partyism by enticing opposition parties into  post-election agreements. Others claimed he was killing parliamentary independence by subduing internal dissent within Jubilee.

This, however, didn't stop Uhuru as he brought on board Kanu, and later Wiper and CCM parties. These numbers have since helped him stamp his authority on Parliament with relative ease. 

The letter of our Constitution specifies presidentialism but its spirit and political practice espouse semi-presidentialism and semi-parliamentarism. This is the main reason Kenyans should hold a referendum to align the letter of the Constitution with its spirit, thus making it consistent with our political realities.

Political parties are established to champion people’s agenda either by forming government or influencing its policies.

Parties can, therefore, perform this role either by being in the opposition or forming an alliance or coalition with the ruling party. This can be prior or after the elections. 

The political environment and prevailing circumstances force parties to enter into these arrangements. Therefore, when parties make alliances, they do so for survival not pleasure. Interests are the core considerations when negotiating these pacts.

The interests in parties are best articulated through their manifestos, which are derived from their ideologies.

Ideologies in democracies can be classified as left or right wing. In this constellation, we have ideologies ranging from far to centre left and far to centre right.


The challenge that developing countries, including Kenya, have is that ideologies have not been crystalised and well-articulated.

There is still a lot of ambiguity in party policy positions across the political divide.

Classifying parties as right or left is thus still a work in progress. Some parties could be left today but then espouse right-wing tendencies in the next elections.

Those considered left wing are those that pursue liberal values. They promote individual freedoms and a free market economy. How far they advocate these values determines how far left they are.

Those that advocate some level of control by the government are considered moderate or centre left, while right- wing parties are conservatives that promote limited liberties and a controlled market economy.

Likewise, the extent to which they advocate controls determines how far right they are. Those that promote some level of peoples’ rights and free market economies are taken as moderate or centre right.

In coalition-building, those that belong either to the left or right find it easy to form pacts.

They have more points of agreement than dispute. However, where they belong to opposing wings, the process of establishing agreement is fraught with obstacles and tedium. 

It takes a long time to create an understanding since their areas of disagreement are more than points of convergence. It is not easy to reconcile their ideologies.

The parties in these coalitions have to forgo so much and alter their policy positions significantly to accommodate each other.

In normal circumstances, parties form pre-election pacts if they belong to the same wing. These parties will also enter into a post-election coalition arrangement where the dominant party in the wing wins but fails to get absolute majority.


Those from opposing ideologies only form coalitions after the elections and in situations where the outcome is split almost at half.

There is a difference between political alliance and party coalitions.

Our political leaders should strive to understand the underlying political concepts in leadership, including ‘alliance’, ‘coalition’, ‘party system’ and ‘national cohesion’. This would help them avoid unnecessary pitfalls in alliance- and coalition-building.

Given their similarities as inter-party cooperation modalities, the terms alliance and coalition are generally used interchangeably. However, they are different owing to the unique features of their platforms and processes.

Political analyst Andrew Wyatt argues that in forming coalitions, politicians leading disciplined parties have a clear idea of their respective strengths, whereas those forming electoral alliances work with less certainty.

This is because they only have an estimate of the strength of their electoral support and how it might be affected by a potential alliance.

Likewise, they can only estimate the electoral cost of an ideologically inconsistent alliance. What is implicit in this distinction is that an alliance is formed before an election, while the coalition is built on the basis of the election outcome.

Based on this understanding, an ‘alliance’ can be defined as the coming together of at least two parties prior to an election to maximise their votes.

On the other hand, a ‘coalition’ refers to the agreement of a minimum of two parties to work together in Parliament and/or in government on the basis of the election outcome.

They are both characterised by the coming together of a minimum of two political parties for a certain period, in pursuit of an agreed set of common goals through common strategy, joint actions, the pooling of resources and the distribution of possible subsequent pay-offs.


Germany and Israel provide the best examples of these arrangements.

In Germany, the Christian Social Union is in an alliance with the Christian Democratic Union. They go into general elections on a single ticket and have pre-election agreements on how to share the spoils of electoral victory.

However, the Social Democratic Party has always found it easy to form a coalition with the Green Party whenever they win elections butthey lack an outright majority in the Bundestag. The SDP is a left-leaning party, while the CDU is a right-wing party.

In, 2005, however, circumstances forced the two ideologically opposed parties to form a grand coalition. This brought Angela Merkel to power and marked the end of Gerhard Schröder’s rein.

Therefore, what President Kenyatta is engaging in by forming  coalitions is not new nor is it politically sinful. Needless to say, it is not illegal. He has the power and he needs to exercise it with relative comfort.

It is also clear that has chosen that his succession and the next political dispensation be part and parcel of his legacy. T

hose left out of Uhuru’s coalition- building train should stop whining and instead initiate their alternative alliance building processes.

That’s the nature of political competition in a multiparty democracy, such as Kenya.