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Is Opposition Unity Impossible?

By Kivutha Kibwana And Wanza Kioko, The Nation (Nairobi), 15 October 2000

Nairobi - In 1992 and 1997, Kenyans overwhelmingly voted for the Opposition. But, ironically, ethnic chauvinism enabled electoral manipulation and victory for Kanu.

We have thus subjected ourselves to a decade of sterile divide-and-be-conquered politics. Given our history and experiences since 1992, is Opposition unity now possible or have we still not learned our lesson? Can Kenya follow the example of Zambia, Malawi and, recently, Zimbabwe, where Opposition unity was a decisive electoral factor?

In this article, we suggest a framework for Opposition unity which guarantees the collective security and well-being of Kenya's ethnic communities, thereby rendering it almost impossible for leaders to justifiably drum up tribal emotion to further undermine democratic transition. Our modest ideas, which have been fertilised by others, are offered as a foundation for a robust debate on Opposition unity.

By Opposition unity, we mean unity by reform forces under the umbrella of a broad-based movement. We do not, therefore, mean merely setting up a united front to fight for the next elections. Indeed, we expect that reformers within Kanu and the National Development Party (NDP) will join the Opposition unity train so Kenya is divided into those who desire change, and those committed to the status quo: reformists and Nyayoists.

On agreeing on the necessity of a united front, a government-in-waiting would have to be established on the basis of the parliamentary vote garnered in the 1997 elections. Party factions would have to be recognised. Accommodation for religious and the secular civil society as well as active or key non-parliamentary parties would have to be considered. The person appointed to lead the government-in-waiting would not contest the ensuing presidential election so he or she does not have an unfair advantage over the other contenders.

The reform government in waiting would:

  • In partnership with the Ufungamano Forum, guarantee constitutional changes before the next elections;
  • Mobilise Kenyans for change and develop a citizens' charter to act as the vision to be pursued in the elections. Crucially, a Work or Action Plan detailing the specific reform agenda to be pursued within 90-day segments would have to be developed. This would constitute a social contract between Kenyans and the future reform government;
  • Negotiate the modalities for achieving a single candidature in presidential, parliamentary and civic elections; and
  • Form the reform government after the next elections.

Two models in terms of the configuration of the executive are possible. There can be one reform presidential candidate or five reform presidential candidates who will rotate, one after the other, as president for one year each. In Switzerland, Israel and Ethiopia (under Mengistu Haile Mariam), a collegial executive has been in operation. In Kenya, constitutional change would be necessary to secure the institution of a rotating presidency between 2002 and 2007 unless the person elected as president continues as the de jure president, but keeps on appointing the others as acting presidents.

Five potential presidential contenders, say Mwai Kibaki, Michael Wamalwa, Charity Ngilu, James Orengo and Simeon Nyachae, should easily allow one of them to stand as the sole candidate, knowing each of the others will in turn take office for only one year. The cumulative term for all would be five years. Under this executive model, any of the five can vie for the 2007 elections.

If the sole Opposition presidential candidate model is adopted, then such a candidate, when elected, will serve for only 12-18 months.

Such relatively short terms would guarantee other aspirants that they will be contenders in their own right before 2007.

A single presidential candidate or a collegial presidency can be sourced from the current Opposition or the religious sector or the secular civil society. The reform government-in-waiting can decide that the candidate(s) be chosen by itself, or the Ufungamano Forum or such similar citizen's lobby or through a primary election by the people. In 1992, Ford-Asili did conduct a primary election countrywide for its presidential candidate. A single reform presidential candidate would serve for only 12-18 months, after which he or she would not vie for the ensuing elections. Suitable retirement terms should be provided. Crucially, Kenya's retired presidents must be utilised, like Nelson Mandela, for special national, regional and international service. Of course, the retiree must have served well to deserve respect.

The reform president or the first collegial president would form a cabinet on the basis of the parliamentary votes of each party but, keeping in mind that one third of the cabinet must be from either gender. If party 'A' scores 20 per cent of the parliamentary votes, then it is eligible to appoint 20 per cent of the ministerial - both ministers and assistant ministers. posts. The party in question would itself identify its ministers for the president's formal appointment.

This formulation would also cover Kanu, assuming it will be defeated by a joint Opposition in the next elections. Hence, automatically the next government would be a government of national unity.

The vice-president would be from the party with the highest number of parliamentary votes, excluding the party that supplies the reform president.

An executive council composed of the president, the vice-president and five other cabinet members appointed according to the strength of a party's parliamentary vote, excluding the parties that supply the two top executive officials, would be established. If the model of collegial presidency is adopted, all the five presidents and two others would form the executive council.

The council's task would be to advise the president between cabinet meetings. Otherwise, the president would be first among equals and, therefore, his or her government would be government by cabinet.

The agenda of the reform government would be to address five related areas:

  • Conclusion of a comprehensive review of the constitution, which is expected to be started before the next elections;
  • Transitional justice to reassure those who have suffered that peace, justice and reconciliation are the way forward and to enable politicians and others who may have committed political crimes to support the transition process;
  • Security measures to create a safe environment conducive to political, socio-economic and cultural development;
  • Political reforms to create a democratic environment for the transitional period; and
  • Economic and social reforms to end the mismanagement and looting of public resources and put the economy on the road to recovery (See NCEC, Katiba Mpya - Maisha Mapya: A Vision for National Renewal, NCEC, Nairobi, 1999).

The reform government must, in implementing the economic and social recovery programme, develop a credible formula for distributing national or public resources so that socio-economic benefits are shared equally, bearing in mind affirmative action for women, the disabled, pastoral communities and other marginalised sectors and people.

A baseline survey of the current level of development status, e.g., in health, education, agriculture, commerce, etc., by sector, geographical region, and so on, would have to be urgently developed to form the basis for an equitable distribution of resources regionally and sectorally.

At the expiry of the 12-18 months, if the model of the sole presidential candidate is adopted, only a presidential election would be held. The winning president would serve the remainder of the presidential term. It would have to be decided if he or she is eligible for re-election for another one term.

The reform government-in-waiting must be ready to mobilise Kenyans to resist, inter alia, the official triggering of a parliamentary-driven constitutional change; holding elections before a comprehensive review of the constitution; President Moi attempting to succeed himself in the next elections; and clear degeneration of the country into anarchy. Hence the reform government-in-waiting would have the option of pressuring for a "caretaker government" before the next elections.

Muungano wa Mageuzi, the Opposition United Front, the Ufangamano Initiative and NCEC's Movement for National Survival, all aim to unify elite reformers with Kenyans of all walks of life in our patriotic struggle for a democratic constitution and visionary leadership. In 1992 and 1997 the Opposition found itself unable to work together.

But time is running out. Kenyans will soon be tired of elite sabotage of their democratisation agenda. If they do so, they will turn inward to identify other leaders from their own ranks. Elite Opposition reformers must stand to be counted now or risk irrelevance.

Wanza Kioko is a postgraduate student in law at the London School of Economics, UK. Kivutha Kibwana is an associate professor of law, University of Nairobi.

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