Democracy is Not Just about the Presidency!
The focus on Kenyas violent clashes and deplorable destruction of lives and property has overfed the Afro pessimists and troubled many of us who are Afro optimists. Ethnicity alone does not and cannot explain the clashes.
There are over 42 recognized tribes within the republic of Kenya. The two main contenders for the Presidency whose indecisive outcome threw the nation into the current political imbroglio come from two of these groups. There are at least 40 other ethnic groups who must have voted for either of these two candidates. The clashes are taking place across all the regions of the country even if some places are worse than others. Why are the clashes more pronounced in the Rift valley, a region that is not the 'home place' of either of two protagonists? How can ethnicity explain the clashes in the multicultural enclaves of poverty, marginalization and deprivation in the sprawling slums of Nairobi?
A comprehensive explanation has to be found in the structure of power as they impinge on the way people reproduce or are unable to reproduce their lives in a sustainable way. Add to this the politics of 'winner takes all', exclusionism, intolerance and zero sum game of 'we win they lose' -then a simple thing like choosing between candidate A and Candidate B or Party X or Party Y becomes a life and death issue giving the elite a more than flexible room to liberally exploit and manipulate the hopes, fears, insecurities and expectations of the masses for their own benefits. I do not think that if Mr. Kibaki meets Mr. Raila in a dark alley, either of them will strangle the other. Why are their supporters killing one another?
From the Kenyan electoral controversies, one would think that the opposition lost everything. But let me share with you a different interpretation of the results: "
..The world forgot that parliamentary elections held simultaneously were adjudged to be free and fair, except for three constituencies. The 2007 parliamentary elections made history in post-independence Kenya with the highest number of parliamentary candidates, 2,547 compared to 1,035 in 2002. It had the highest number of women candidates, 269, compared to 44 in 2002. The election this year also saw the highest number of newcomers, 2,010 and had the highest number of political parties sponsoring candidates 117, compared to 34 in 2002.
|Police officers confront a |
man in Nairobi
© Daily Nation 2/1/08
The 2007 parliamentary elections saw 190 immediate former MPs defend their seats but only 71 were re-elected. The elections also saw 84 of those who had been elected MPs prior to 2002 standing, but only 13 being elected. Out of 263 candidates who had stood before but never won, only 25 were elected. Out of the 269 women candidates in 2007, 15 won compared to 2002, where out of 44 women candidates 9 won. ODM had the highest number of women MPs (six) followed by PNU's four, then KANU, NARC, CCU, KENDA and UDM with 1 each. Ironically, ODM Kenya did not have a single woman MP despite sponsoring 15 women candidates, the second highest number after NARC which had 17. KANU, the former opposition party, left with only 14 seats from 62 it held in the ninth parliament. NARC, the ruling party in 2002 was left with only four seats from 122."
An exasperated Stan Oyunga writing in The Standard (Nairobi, Tuesday 8 January) concluded his Letter to the editor by asking: "Aren't these facts worth noting?"
Although they are worth noting indeed, in Africa, the politics of 'the big man' is still dominant. If the dispute is mainly at the Presidential level, why all the violence and intransigence? The answer of course has to be found in the fact that the President of Kenya is more powerful than the President of the United States of America. President Bush cannot form a cabinet without the approval of the Congress and Senate. It is the case in most countries.
If the Kenyan result were reproduced in America, the commentators would say that the voters have decreed bi partisan politics. Most of the time that is the unwritten rule. The Democrats have controlled the Congress/ Senate for more terms than they have controlled the White House.
A wider reading of the Kenyan elections therefore should be that Kenyan voters in their sovereign wisdom have 'decided' that President Kibaki/PNU should be overseen by the ODM/Raila. But across this continent, the executives treat parliaments like poor relatives and undermine their oversight functions because the office of the president is 'imperial'. Constitutions like Kenya's where Ministers come from parliament give the powers to tempt ambitious MPs to 'behave' so that presidential goodies might fall their way.
While the ODM is free to pursue its claims against the presidential results by all peaceful means, it should not disregard the mandate that millions of Kenyans have given it; it makes the majority party in the National Parliament. Its effective presence in Parliament may actually deliver on the many burning issues that the electorate is concerned with when they voted for more than 100 political parties. Taming the executive and making it accountable to the citizens through elected parliament is very crucial to deepening democracy across the continent. Kenya's crisis could yet be an opportunity to make voters regain fate in politics and politicians that all is not lost because you 'lose' the race for state house.
Democracy is not about the presidency alone but nurturing other democratic institutions that can effectively provide needed checks and balances including parliament, judiciary, active citizenship and vigorous media among others. A responsible and responsive parliament can provide legislative activism that brings enormous social change to the citizens. ODM has to show that it is ready for leadership on all fronts not just at the State house.
By Dr. Tajudeen Abdul
Deputy Director, Africa, for the UN Millennium Campaign based in Nairobi Kenya. He writes this weekly column in his personal capacity as a Pan Africanist and a Director of the London-Based Justice Africa
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