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The Brighter Side of Kanu-NDP Bloc

The Nation (Nairobi), Editorial, 17 June 2001

The political landscape is this week totally different from what it was last week. For the first time in close to 40 years, we have a coalition government, with Kanu as the senior partner and the National Development Party (NDP) as the junior.

Kenyans are debating well into the night the pros and cons of this so-called partnership (sometimes hybrid) Government. The fact is that it is a coalition government, and a coalition government, by whatever name, is, in our circumstances, a good arrangement. Of course, the mere fact of being a coalition does not make it good. Both partners have to resolutely work at and constantly consult on to make it good.

This is not to pretend that there will be an equal sharing of power between Kanu and the NDP. Neither is it to pretend that Kanu has cobbled together the coalition for the altruistic purpose of improving governance. Whatever its reasons, we choose to see the half-full glass and see this as a promising development for a number of reasons.

First, it holds the promise of taking desperation out of our politics. Over the last 10 years, our politics has been a mad, winner-take-all, rat-race, with the incumbents fighting to win at all costs and the opposition believing that to lose an election is to lose all.

A tradition of coalitions provides the assurance to politicians and their parties that, even if they do not win an election, they can still share in governing. That is democratic maturity.

Second, for the first time since the early 1960s, people who do not owe allegiance to Kanu have set foot in the hallowed sanctum of the Cabinet. The assumption is that, for the first time, ideas other than those of Kanu will inform the conduct of Cabinet business. Fresh views and a diversity of opinion can do nothing but good to the process of policy-making, especially for a government in which policy innovation appears to be so scarce.

Third, and unfortunately, Kenyans have segmented themselves into tribes and tribal blocs, each with an exaggerated sense of its own interests. And these tribes and tribal blocs do not feel they are involved in government or that they will "share in the cake", unless one of their own sits in the Cabinet. This coalition eliminates a sense of relative isolation for a large number of Kenyans. Equally, in a country where people believe development is brought to them by their powerful kin, a coalition is a balm for the sense of deprivation.

On a more concrete plane, this coalition Government brings to an end the era where Kanu believed the opposition was incapable of government. Symbolically, it breaches the phoney aura of invincibility that Kanu has worn like a mantle since 1963 and shatters the vacuous notion that there can be no government unless it is Kanu. It is the first sign that Kenya's democracy is beginning to grow teeth.

Kenyans hope that this new formula is primarily intended to strengthen government and is not part of a strategy to extend personal rule and further political party agendas. They also hope the partners will use it to bring down the tempo of destructive competitiveness in politics, while, at the same time, working to preserve diversity and foster respect for the right to dissent. That is the only way the political changes can benefit Kenyans.

Copyright 2001 The Nation. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com).