The critical role of the opposition

Azimio

Wiper Party Leader Kalonzo Musyoka (left) and Jubilee Party secretary general Jeremiah Kioni during a group photo session after holding a Parliamentary Group meeting with elected leaders under the Azimio coalition at Stoni Athi Resort in Machakos County on September 16, 2022.

Photo credit: Francis Nderitu | Nation Media Group

For the past several years, Kenya has had a procession of coalition governments. Several large gatherings of parties linked up to become power behemoths. This meant that functionally, the parties that were left out tended to be small, were poorly resourced, had fewer elected representatives and remained largely ignored by the media.

Further, because public political party activity is not very strong outside of election years, it was a challenge for these outfits to organise, lobby and more. Many parties in such a position did what they could, and bided their time until the power landscape changed in successive general election years.

However, the results of the Kenya 2022 election mean that the country has one of the biggest and most organised coalitions with not even a toehold in the ruling gathering, especially since both the President and his Deputy are on record saying that it is the role of an opposition to be an opposition.

This makes them the largest, loudest opposition congregation this country has had in a while, and this sets the scene for what could potentially be a very interesting political time.

It is firstly important to consider that Kenyan oppositions were first set up against very loud, violent and autocratic ruling parties, and their founders paid dearly for this in terms of arrests, beatings, torture and more.

Their reasons for existence shifted with the return of multiparty politics to Kenya in 1992, and again with the promulgation of a new Constitution in 2010. As such, the reasons and context for “keeping the government on its toes”, a common Kenyan refrain when discussing the opposition’s role, has changed radically over time.

The work of a functional opposition is to shine a critical light on the work of the ruling government of the day. This is not always disagreement for the sake of disagreement, and it has been a problematic assumption that oppositions are always saying no. In actual fact, oppositions say, “Wouldn’t it be better to consider this another way”, or even, “Why is this taking so long” or, “What don’t we know about this situation?”

Oppositions do not exist to take down ruling governments: if anything, as the representatives of the people who would have preferred an alternative ruling party in government, they ensure that the government exists for all the people beyond their own party members.

It is further necessary to consider that in several matters, the ruling and opposition parties could actually be in strong agreement, and may actually catalyse each other’s actions for a better national outcome.

However, the most important function of the opposition is to ensure that ruling parties are not blinded by their own access to power and decision-making. They, therefore, act as necessary calling influences and stopgaps, ensuring wider national accountability. Kenyans will therefore be watching closely and hoping for a government made strong by a robust opposition, in order to ensure good political outcomes for all.

The writer is a policy analyst; [email protected]

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