The official death of the National Super Alliance (Nasa) following the withdrawal of four of its key constituent parties has raised questions about the stability and lifespan of coalitions in the country and put into focus future alliance building.
ODM, ANC, Wiper Party and Ford-Kenya announced their withdrawal from the dysfunctional coalition, which had been characterised by mistrust, ego and political infidelity upend future alliances. The other member of Nasa was Isaac Ruto’s Chama cha Mashinani.
Nasa’s problems mirror those that upended the Nation Rainbow Coalition (Narc), which ended decades of Kanu rule in 2002 only to crumble shortly after because of failure by President Mwai Kibaki’s side to honour the pre-election memorandum of understanding (MoU) on power-sharing.
Just weeks after its electoral victory, the LDP wing of Narc accused President Kibaki and his side of reneging on an agreement on the composition of the Cabinet, which expanded to include pacts on the review of the Constitution.
The two also signify the perils of pre-election alliances: where parties do not put all their cards on the table and then begin to pull in different directions after elections.
Unlike in 2002 when there was no law to guide the formation of coalitions and therefore the infamous MoU was largely seen as a gentleman’s agreement, there is now the Political Parties Act that regularises the formation of coalitions yet the same challenges Narc faced post-2002 elections are the same Nasa faced.
“We are a country of very good laws but with a people, particularly the leaders who do not adhere to the law. Also, there is a misconception that politics does not have to be played honestly when making deals. Because of that lack of honesty, agreements will always break up,” says political scientist Dr Richard Bosire.
For Mulle Musau, national coordinator of the Elections Observation Group, the bigger problem is that the coalitions are most often based on personalities and not on any structured engagement. As such, the party leaders negotiate for their positions, which then breeds mistrust.
“If you handled the institutional aspect of political parties in Kenya then you can handle the attendant and consequential engagements, including coalition building. The parties first have to become institutionalised and stand for something, and not get into a coalition just to get power for political convenience,” he said.
Political party coalitions have emerged as the vehicles of garnering enough votes in a country where politics are largely ethnic-based. Since 2002, political leaders who represent various ethnic formations have been coming together to build alliances to get as many votes from as many ethnic groups.
Ahead of the 2022 elections, alliance-building talks have started: Even before they withdrew from NASA, ANC Wiper and Ford-Kenya have been talking under the aegis of One Kenya Alliance (OKA). Independence party Kanu has also been meeting with the OKA leaders though their commitment has always been up for question. Kanu also entered a post-election agreement with Jubilee.
Breach of trust
ODM and Jubilee have announced that they are in talks to approach the 2022 elections as one team. Deputy President William Ruto has, on the other hand, avoided the traditional coalition building. He has encouraged a number of his allies from different regions to form smaller parties, which all support him and his UDA outfit.
Yet these are still threatened by mistrust and dishonesty that have sunk the ones before them.
“Going forward, coalitions will become strong when they are properly anchored on the need to be true to what you signed up to. That is how you build confidence in coalitions. Unless you bridge the gap on this thing called trust, we are going to end up in the same situation. What do you think is the cause of the challenges Jubilee is having internally between the President and his deputy? It is a breach of trust. What do you think the challenges in Nasa were all about? Breach of trust. The foundation is always trust. These are the fundamental issues and until that deficit gap is properly addressed, coalitions will always have trouble,” ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi said in a recent interview with the Sunday Nation.
Mistrust and dishonesty, Dr Bosire says, saw the death of the Narc dream after being overwhelmingly elected in 2002 and set the country on a perilous journey that led to the 2007/8 post-election violence.
“Whether there was a law or not, there was no justification for President Kibaki to discard the MoU and mistreat the other side who had actually enabled him to win. It is a question of political infidelity that politicians cannot promise something and stick to it. That is the same thing that has happened in Nasa. They think that politics is above the law. It is a misconception of what politics is all about,” says Dr Bosire.