Since the March 9th handshake the country has experienced relative peace and unity. However, questions still linger nearly one year later about what that gesture between the President and his Opposition counterpart really meant for the ordinary Wananchi beyond a peaceful environment to go about their business.
More importantly, what does this mean for political parties and their role in shaping democracy? While the meeting sealed by a handshake was between two individuals, their followers and political parties they lead fell in line albeit shakily trumpeting the same message of building bridges.
For nearly a year, the opposition coalition NASA has failed to actualize its mandate as the opposition. Despite numerous economic scandals involving high ranking government officials, the opposition parties have remained ineffective. In fact, the better part of the year was treated to infighting among the coalition partners who felt “left out” whatever that means. Which in itself reveals a rather ugly underbelly of the opposition coalition. Were they really in it for the change or for the ‘spoils’?
And if a leading opposition party like ODM chose to “work with the government” what does this mean for other political parties in the opposition like Ford Kenya, ANC and Wiper? Outside of the coalition that brought them together to challenge Jubilee, what is their ideology? Are they able to pronounce themselves on the ills in the society allegedly perpetuated by the government?
Interestingly, all these three parties now appear to have joined ODM in supporting the handshake’s Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) task force that’s going round seeking views of Kenyans on the way forward for the country. They’ve all submitted their proposals with the exception of Wiper Party – which is also likely to give its views going by the mood of its party leader, Kalonzo Musyoka.
Also worth mulling over is that at the top of the agenda of the handshake appears to be a referendum that’s apparently necessary to help change the Constitution to make it more inclusive. Something those opposed to it like the Deputy President, think is about creating jobs (Prime Minister and two assistant positions) for a few leaders at the expense of Kenyans. Indeed ODM, Ford Kenya and ANC have expressed themselves on this matter claiming the winner takes all system is what is causing so much anxiety and making some communities feel left out.
While this blog is not taking any stand on the referendum – because there’s no question that’s been put across yet, it is worth questioning the sincerity of those making these proposals. Firstly, pre-2010 Constitution we had a recognized position of the leader of Opposition; so we can argue it wasn’t a winner take all situation, yet there was glaring inequality and unbalanced regional development. Would creation of positions for key leaders of communities therefore solve this? We remain skeptical about that.
However, if we had robust political parties where members meet often and not for purposes of dealing with crises or plotting power games but revisiting their manifesto and looking for ways of pulling together to deliver on the promises made, the country would be better for it.
Right now, Jubilee is failing terribly at this with the ongoing implosion that they’re not willing admit. The opposition parties on the other hand are not showing any alternatives – if anything, it appears we have no opposition since the handshake.
Sadly, this also brings to the fore another important debate about the number of political parties in the country. Does it make sense to have the registrar of political parties listing on their website 78 political parties when only three to four political parties are actually engaging on national matters and attempting to deal with the common man’s problems, although unsatisfactorily?
More importantly, what’s the rationale in disbursing funds to these political parties when their effect can’t be felt at the grassroots level?
Until we get serious with the political parties and ensure the party leaders are worth their salt and that the party mechanisms are devoid of mischief and corruption there’s little we shall be building across any bridge, simply because the Executive and the Legislature that play the biggest role in how a country is run are products of political parties.