Kenya's Opposition Must Adorn a Smart Survival Kit

Published on 29th February 2008

There are two distinct issues regarding the political turmoil in Kenya that has claimed at least 1,000 lives and displaced more than 500,000 people: the stolen election and the the violence that has morphed into ethnic cleansing. It is the second issue which has alarmed the entire international community because it raises the specter of Rwanda's genocide and that of Darfur in neighboring Sudan.

As the European Union sends peace-keeping troops to Darfur, will there be appeals to send peace-keepers to Kenya too? The mess in Somalia, Sudan, Congo and Chad reinforce the offensive notion that Africa is incapable of solving its own problems.

Ending the political violence and ethnic cleansing must be accorded the top-most priority for two reasons. First, a stolen verdict can be fixed in a year or two but it will take decades or a generation to fix a country destroyed by ethnic violence. Recall that the collapse of Liberia began in 1985 with a stolen election. The country has not recovered fully and needs an estimated $20 billion to rebuild. It is so easy to destroy but a formidable task to rebuild. Second, ignoring ethnic violence and insisting on the resolution of the stolen election first gives the international community the impression that Kenya's political leaders do not care about blood-letting. Their over-riding concern is who should be the head of state. Why then should the international community care about the victims of the violence when Kenya's political leaders don't?

If I were Odinga or ODM, I would say this to (Kenya President)Kibaki:   "Election dispute is one thing but ethnic cleansing is another. We should put our differences aside for now; it is costing the country dearly. Neither one of us would like to preside over a country that is broke and torn apart by ethnic divisions. Kenya comes first; our own political ambitions are secondary. Therefore, we should join hands and condemn the ethnic violence and urge our supporters to end it immediately. We should organize a tour to area devastated by the violence and  console the victims." After peace, calm and normalcy have been restored and people are going about their daily activities, I would visit the first issue: The stolen election.  So what to do now?

First, the opposition must be united on the next course of action. At present, one section of the opposition wants Kibaki to step aside because he stole the election while another wants a power-sharing deal with a new post of Prime Minister created. A third section wants an independent investigation of the vote rigging.  These three courses of action are not consistent with one another, nor feasible. Kibaki stepping aside is out of the question; no African head of state would do so at the behest of the opposition.

The opposition must speak with one voice.  If it chooses a power-sharing arrangement, it must proceed with utmost caution, think ahead and plan its strategy accordingly. The concept of "unity government" has been used by Africa's despots to co-opt and marginalize opposition leaders. In Zimbabwe, when Joshua Nkomo of ZAPU joined forces with Robert Mugabe in 1987 to become Mugabe's deputy, nobody heard of him again until he died. In Feb 2003, President Laurent Gbagbo officially appointed Seydou Diarra as the new prime minister with no power and nobody heard of him again. In 2004, a hollow post of Prime Minister (PM) was similarly created with no real power for the late John Garang of Sudan.

Should Raila Odinga accept such a post? If not, how should he react? And if he does, can he work with Kibaki? Will Odinga be snookered, co-opted or "bought off” with mansions, Mercedes Benzes, and loads of cash?

The incumbent and his henchmen know that they have done "bad." Their hands are dripping in blood and their pockets are full of booty. They are afraid that, should they step down from power; all their gory misdeeds will be exposed. To avoid this, they cling to power at all cost to the detriment of their countries and even to their own peril.

A smart opposition ought to address these fears and push for a BROADER forum to resolve it. That broader forum is the "Sovereign National Conference" or (SNA). It has several advantages. First, it provides all sides with a FACE-SAVING way out of the mess. The regime is NOT seen as capitulating to opposition demands because what comes out of the sovereign national conference is not going to be the dictates of the opposition, nor the regime. Conversely, the opposition is not seen as defeated by the regime. SNA is a modernization of the indigenous African political institution - the village meeting where problems and crises are resolved. To guard against the ruling regime’s bid to control the SNA, appropriate counter-measures must be developed accordingly. Three simple rules must be agreed on by all parties BEFORE the conference:  The date, venue and the composition of delegates. 

Since the 1970s, more than 30 peace accords and power-sharing deals have been brokered in Africa but their success record has been abysmal. Only Mozambique's 1991 peace accord has endured, while shaky pacts and deals hold in Angola, Chad, Cote d'Ivoire, Niger, and Sudan. Elsewhere, peace accords were shredded like confetti even before the ink on them was dry, amid mutual recriminations. The most spectacular failures were: Angola (1991 Bicesse Accord, 1994 Lusaka Accord), Burundi (1993 Arusha Accord), DR Congo (July 1999 Lusaka Accord), Rwanda (1993 Arusha Accord), Sierra Leone (1999 Lome Accord), Ivory Coast (2003 Accra Accord), Sudan (2005).

These peace deals fail because they are reached between only two sides: The government side and the opposition. CIVIL SOCIETY is often excluded. This must change because it is "un-African." In the village, no one affected by the dispute is excluded from its resolution.

The SNA should not resolve all of the country's problems - from time immemorial to the present. Such was the fate of Somalia's (October 2004) peace conference held in Eldoret, Kenya. The election has already been stolen; no need to flog a dead horse. SNA should limit itself to establishing an Interim Government, write a New Constitution and set a date for fresh elections. All militias should be disbanded and compensation paid to the victims of the violence, regardless of ethnicity. Once such a decision has been reached, it must be BINDING on ALL parties - the Kibaki government, the opposition parties and everybody else. The decision must be "sovereign," hence the term "Sovereign National Conference."

The government may attempt to "pack" the conference with "pro-government" groups and as such, the opposition must be vigilant. A conference can be hijacked by various groups to advance their own political agenda. Kenya's sovereign national conference must be ready to follow South Africa's example with "Truth and Reconciliation Commission." If those who have looted Kenya's economy are willing to come forward, confess their misdeeds and return the loot, they will be forgiven.

Of course, they won't return all, just as not all those who perpetrated heinous atrocities under apartheid in South Africa came forward.  But what is a better option: Half a loaf of bread or nothing? A smart opposition will consider all these options.

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