Political coalitions in Kenya are nearly as old as multiparty politics. And they are here to stay. Since 2002, we have gone through different formations such as Narc, PNU, CORD, Nasa, Jubilee. New ones are sure to emerge ahead of next year's general election. Already that is happening. No sooner had Nasa died than One Kenya Alliance (OKA) was born.
The nature of our regionalised politics means no party can go it alone in national elections, unless it proudly wants to marginalise itself. Tangatanga boast that their party, United Democratic Alliance (UDA), doesn't need coalitions.
UDA secretary-general Veronica Maina has said coalitions are not their priority. Others in UDA now say like-minded partners are welcome to work with them, but on Tangatanga’s terms. This is only a slight climbdown from Deputy President William Ruto's outright rejection earlier of coalitions, arguing that ‘Hustlers’ were his coalition. Supreme confidence? Or hubris?
A meeting between Ruto and Mt Kenya Tangatanga MPs held in Laikipia last weekend deliberated on this matter at some length. The impetus for the discussion was the disquiet in UDA created by Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria and his Chama Cha Kazi, and former Laikipia East MP Mwangi Kiunjuri with his Service Party.
The two politicians, who were previously militantly Tangatanga, are adamant they won't be railroaded into disbanding their parties to join UDA. If UDA wants their support, they insist, it must negotiate on terms agreeable to them and Mt Kenya. They won't give themselves and their support for free.
The message is resonating around the Mountain, hence the worry in Tangatanga. It has also dovetailed with a growing momentum for a unified voice that will give the region the necessary national leverage.
The tentative consensus as reported from the Laikipia meeting was that Kiunjuri and Kuria can keep their parties but that there won't be any pre-election pacts with them unless after the elections, when their strength will be assessed. Pointedly, neither Kuria nor Kiunjuri attended the Laikipia retreat.
Inflexibility on this issue could turn out to be Tangatanga's undoing. All manner of parties are springing up or are being revived across the country, which seek to protect local or ethnic interests. In Mt Kenya alone, there is not just Jubilee but scores of other parties: the Democratic Party (which National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi was reportedly eyeing as his vehicle); PNU (which has opened coalition talks with ODM); Murang'a Governor Mwangi wa Iria's Usawa party; Martha Karua's Narc-Kenya; and a new party fronted by former Kiambu Governor William Kabogo called 'Tujibebe Wakenya'. The list is endless. Additionally, Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi has promised to launch a party geared to his people's interests.
Who knows, some of these parties could opt to support Ruto, depending on what he offers them. Others like Murungi's proposed party are likely to ally themselves to whatever formation Raila Odinga will craft, going by the Governor's formal pledge last week to support the ODM leader's presidential journey. To expect any of these regional parties to support Ruto or any other candidate unconditionally is wishful thinking.
From the Coast, Kilifi Governor Amason Kingi has come up with an outfit called Pamoja African Alliance, which aims to unite the Mijikenda. It, too, is seeking coalition partners. It's thought to be gravitating towards OKA, but could look elsewhere if the situation there changes for the worse. And supposing, for the sake of argument, OKA falls apart and one or more of the ethnic heavyweights in that alliance decide to work with Ruto, will he in all honesty tell them they must toe the UDA line or ship out? Obviously no.
Coalitions are common in democracies the world over – Germany, France, Spain, India and many more. Some of the coalitions, like in Italy, Netherlands, Belgium and Israel, change with bewildering rapidity.
Also, the notion that Britain and the US are ruled forever interchangeably by two staid, monolithic parties is not quite the case. Between 2010 and 2015, for instance, the UK was governed by a coalition of Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.
The US is even more interesting and complex. The Republican and Democratic parties are really a patchwork of quasi-autonomous state affiliates that coalesce into federal entities for purposes of national elections.
At the Tangatanga meeting in Laikipia, the DP position in a UDA government was reportedly dangled for Mt Kenya. This should help in energising Mountain support. However, will this be enough to fortify Tangatanga in the Mountain if other major demands such as Kiunjuri and Karua are making to would-be suitors concerning the economic and political empowerment of the region are given short shrift?
Besides, other Big Name candidates like Musalia Mudavadi are also promising the Mountain the DP slot. And talking of OKA, how will this carrot work out for the alliance (assuming it stays together), considering that other partners who miss out on the presidential prize will demand the DP position as a right?
While visiting Murang'a on August 29, Raila threw down a dramatic gauntlet to his competitors. He backed the one-man-one-vote-one-shilling principle dear to Mt Kenyans. Raila also supported increased parliamentary seats and enhanced national revenue allocations to populous regions like Mt Kenya. It was the beginning of what he metaphorically called his climb up the Mountain.
Jolted by Raila's gambit, the Tangatanga meeting in Laikipia made a major volte-face and now vowed to support any constitutional amendments by the government that will anchor the one man, one vote idea and create extra constituencies for populous areas. These were provisions contained in the BBI, which Tangatanga vehemently opposed. Curiously, they did not propose to initiate the amendments in Parliament.