Consultations to diffuse impasses between competing sides in national politics sometimes lead to what are variously termed governments of national unity, transitional governments, caretaker governments or grand coalitions.
Seasoned statesmen and women craft these power-sharing arrangements to provide time and space for the national political landscape to settle or evolve.
their very nature, these are stop-gap arrangements that do not address the underlying causes of the impasse.
Kenya has had one such arrangement, the grand coalition after the 2007-2008 elections that led to loss of life and the dislocation of the livelihoods of many people.
It is noteworthy that international organizations, development partners and experts in statecraft do not recommend these temporary arrangements when an election leads to an impasse in industrialized countries.
For example, although the outcome of the 2000 election in the United States was contested, no one would have seriously recommended a Republican-Democrat grand coalition to run the United States.
The idea was unthinkable for several reasons.
First, the US Constitution does not envisage or provide for such an arrangement. The winner is not required to accommodate the loser.
For good or ill, there are some similarities between the 2010 Kenya Constitution and the US Constitution. Consequently, the Kenya Constitution does not provide for temporary arrangements under which adversaries govern the country.
Second, a grand coalition of Democrats and Republicans was unthinkable because the two parties have fundamental differences in approach to governance. A coalition of Republicans and Democrats would pull many key institutions in the United States in contradictory directions.
in the case of Kenya, experts had no qualms recommending and effectively forcing a grand coalition in 2008 on Kibaki’s PNU and Odinga’s ODM. It was assumed that the differences between PNU and ODM were not deep or did not reflect truly competing visions of Kenya. The differences could be papered over with a grand coalition.
In fact though, there were deep philosophical differences between PNU’s preoccupation with creating wealth and ODM’s focus on the distribution of this wealth. This tension has existed for so long in Kenya’s political arena that the two opposing sides are, for all practical purposes, competing visions of Kenya. They are also as irreconcilable as the visions between Democrats on the one hand and Republicans on the other in the United States.
Indeed, immediately after Kenya became independent, there were heated debates between those who thought that governance should focus on the creation of wealth and those believed that the emphasis should be on distribution. A parting of ways was captured in Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965. Thereafter, and with every passing year, the differences between the two camps has only become sharper: the PNU/Jubilee of our time is as passionate about wealth creation as ODM/NASA is preoccupied with the distribution of that wealth.
It is time for us to recognize and respect these two visions. For practical reasons, it is also time for well-wishers to stop forcing coalitions on Kenyans.
If Kenyans learned anything from the Kibaki-Raila Grand Coalition it is this: the grand coalition brought the differences between opposing sides into the machinery of the government; the adversaries continued to fight.
Before the grand coalition, adversaries lobbed volleys of attacks from a distance. The coalition brought adversaries face to face; they could now engage in hand-to-hand combat within the institutions of the government.
Under the so-called Grand Coalition of PNU and ODM, every policy proposed by one side was immediately undermined by the other. Every meeting, even low-level meetings in the ministries had to have ‘moles’ from each side. Every policy was scrutinized to make sure that it did not undermine one side or the other. Senior positions were paired to ensure that initiatives from adversaries could be neutralized or checkmated. Double appointments in senior positions led to a ballooning Executive. To get a simple policy considered let alone implemented one had to walk the gauntlet of attacks inspired by fundamentally different visions of Kenya. Vast resources were consumed to create institutional paralysis. More effort was spent fighting within the coalition than was invested in moving the nation forward.
Grand coalitions secure a tenuous peace in the political arena. But they achieve little else. Above all, they weaken the institutions whose strength is the key to development.
Grand coalitions are neither grand nor truly coalitions. In the case of Kenya, the tenets of the two opposing camps are so clear that a grand coalition would be a low grade farce.
By Dr M. Wachira | firstname.lastname@example.org