POLITICAL VEHICLES

Coalitions killing multiparty democracy, breeding ethnic politics

In true multiparty democracy, parties should embrace proper structures, succession strategies and internal democracy.

In Summary

• Coalitions are just stopgap measures where tribal and political formations simply await their turn at the presidency, and easily mobilise along ethnic lines.

• The net effect of this unending coalition building is the birth of village parties whose sole ideology is to position themselves awaiting approaches from other outfits.

President Uhuru Kenyatta with party leaders Gideon Moi (Kanu), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Raila Odinga (ODM), Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu (NARC) and Moses Wetang[ula (Ford Kenya) at State House,Nairobi, on Thursday, February 25,
LINE-UP: President Uhuru Kenyatta with party leaders Gideon Moi (Kanu), Musalia Mudavadi (ANC), Kalonzo Musyoka (Wiper), Raila Odinga (ODM), Kitui Governor Charity Ngilu (NARC) and Moses Wetang[ula (Ford Kenya) at State House,Nairobi, on Thursday, February 25,
Image: PSCU

When I posited here three weeks ago that ODM boss Raila Odinga and DP William Ruto needed to unite before 2022 or risk being hanged separately, I had no idea that a few days later, events would conspire to make the potential Raila-Ruto alliance the talk of town.

Even more interesting, neither side bothered to deny that this possibility existed.

Indeed, both set of supporters seemed to struggle to hold themselves from going into the streets to celebrate it.

I don’t know what raw intelligence the President consumes, but it is inconceivable that his regime would let the potentially passionate Raila-Ruto alliance happen, knowing that the two men are political dynamite when set loose.

I suspect that 'the deep state', if it really exists, is banking on the belief that in a Raila-Ruto arrangement, both men would want only the presidency and nothing else, which would scuttle the union before it even took off.

But that would be underestimating just how bitter the two would be about their betrayal. In fact, if I was an adviser of the two gentlemen, I would advise them to go beyond their alliance and anoint a third person for the presidency!

Imagine the political shock waves across the country if Raila and Ruto declared a new alliance, then anointed their former Pentagon colleague Charity Ngilu as their presidential candidate. The tsunami would sweep political strategists and armchair analysts to Port Moresby.

But as with all coalitions before and possibly after it, if it comes to pass, this will be another convergence of tribes, especially of big tribes, as opposed to any shared political ideology.

If UDA and ODM are what they say they are, it would be nice to see them run without resorting to tribal coalitions

In fact, Raila and Ruto are like day and night, so markedly different that their only similarity is their style of politics that thrives on populism and mass indoctrination.

If they were to sign an MoU, I doubt that either of them would believe the other would fulfil their part. But I digress.

The bigger issue perhaps would be that this, predictably, would be another turbulent “yangu kumi yako kumi” political formation.

This is where one big tribe is propped up above all others, while another angry tribe, nursing betrayal, look for coalitions with other tribes to remove the ruling ex-partner.

In the late 1990s and early 2000s — when the constitutional review momentum was at its peak — the common refrain from supporters of the parliamentary system of government was that “we need a system where even Dr Bonaya Godana can be Prime Minister, rather than the imperial presidency of big tribes”.

It was a statement that spoke to the unmatched brilliance of the late Godana as a politician and person, but mostly about his 'small tribe origins'.

Proponents of the parliamentary system foresaw political parties as strong institutions where diversity could thrive, and a Godana, a euphemism for anyone from a small tribe and marginalised area, could rise to party leader and therefore PM.

In the first two elections after the restoration of multiparty politics in 1992 and 1997, the four or five large parties just ran on their own.

It wasn’t until 2002 that the desire to remove Kanu came with the creation of a coalition. But a few months into the life of the new regime, parties within the coalition drifted apart and became the avowed enemies of the subsequent election in 2007.

In 2013, TNA and URP ran together and won power, and then proceeded to merge into the Jubilee Party for the 2017 elections.

However, the political and ideological fault lines remained, and what was meant to be a coalition of unity has ended up becoming the Tower of Babel of today’s politics, with ex-URP moving to become the opposition within.

The lesson is that coalitions don’t really build strong parties and political institutions.

They are in fact just stopgap measures where tribal and political formations simply await their turn at the presidency and easily mobilise along ethnic lines.

The net effect of this unending coalition building is the birth of village parties whose sole ideology is to position themselves awaiting an approach from other outfits.

Some of them end up being the true theatre of the bizarre, like the Nasa arrangement that raised Senator Moses Wetang'ula to co-principal, even though his Ford Kenya managed just one senator (himself) and a handful of MPs. Most of them have since moved to other political persuasions.

If you take a look at that picture President Uhuru Kenyatta took with party leaders at State House recently, you will see they represent the five biggest parties-tribes in the land.

 And that tells you as much as you want to know about our politics. If they proceed to form power coalitions, they will be just collections of disparate egos and ambitions, all waiting for their turn at State House as envisaged in whatever MoU they will have signed.

There will be no one worrying about how to build real and strong parties to outlast them and their ambitions. Certainly, no one worrying about the 'Bonaya Godanas of modern politics'.

In true multiparty democracy, parties in the political platform should embrace proper structures, succession strategies and internal democracy.

If Raila runs for President, why, for instance, wouldn’t he have as his running mate one of his deputies — Governor Hassan Joho or Governor Wycliffe Oparanya?

I do not know the deputy party leaders of the other large parties (and I use “large” here with a huge dose of exaggeration), or even if they have any, so I will not mention them here. That gap where one party looks externally for a running mate, or for partners who can bring large tribal vote blocks, is the one where coalitions are riding roughshod on the growth of multiparty democracy and political parties that can unite multiple tribes and interests.

As of today, what DP Ruto said in a recent interview holds true — that only ODM and his UDA have the capacity to claim support in most parts of the country, the others are still stuck in trying to unite the tribes of their leaders behind the  leaders, before they can venture out in coalition building.

But if UDA and ODM are what they say they are, it would be nice to see them run without resorting to tribal coalitions, and subsequently hold internal successions where the deputies rise to the top, despite their coming from smaller tribes.

It will be the only way to address the exclusion of small tribes from the mainstream of party leadership, as well as slowly wean our politics off the desire for election coalitions that revolve around just five ethnic communities.

Collins Ajuok is a columnist and political commentator

(Edited by V. Graham)