Party Cooperation in Post-election as Ethnic Tensions
Department, Moi University
P O Box
In most African states, general elections generate a lot of ethnic
tensions. This is because most parties are ethnic-based or receive support
from certain ethnic groups. When a party loses in an election, it is excluded
from the government and the ethnic group that supported it suffers reprisals,
its members are even victimized in the civil service, parastatals and
other state backed institutions. This attitude has generated more tensions
This paper attempts to give suggestions on how post-election tensions
can be minimized in plural societies. Kenya will be taken to show that
party cooperation between KANU, NDP and Ford Kenya has created coexistence
of the ethnic groups that supported such parties. The paper also evaluates
the impact of party cooperation in the future of multiparty politics in
Kenya. The paper also draws examples from other countries like Zimbabwe
and South Africa to show the merits of party cooperation in defusing would-be
The 1990s has witnessed a new wave of political dispensation in Africa.
After practising a one-party political system for three decades, the beginning
of this decade witnessed the adoption of a multiparty system. It was hoped
then that political competition between parties would usher in a government
that observed transparency and accountability devoid of corruption and
bad governance. The clarion call then was for a change of guards at the
helm. However, in many countries like Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe,
the ruling parties regained their leadership. In other states like Zambia
and Malawi, new leaders took over but brought in minimal changes. Most
of these countries have conducted two multiparty elections and the aftermath
of elections has led to the evolution of a new philosophy and attitude
towards the future government. The new approach seems to be geared towards
political party cooperation or the formation of a government of national
In Kenya, after the second multiparty election in December 1997, political
party cooperation has been the in thing. This is a new concept in African
political thought, and possibly a political practice that is likely to
dominate politics in the 21st century. It is a political philosophy that
has the capacity to ease tensions between various cooperating ethnic groups.
It is a political concept based on mutual cooperation between the ruling
party and one or two opposition parties. The cooperation does not eliminate
complete opposition politics.
The concept of cooperation as practised in Kenya by the Kenya African
National Union (KANU) the ruling party and National Development Party
(NDP) the third largest party in parliament also implies that there is
concerted effort to reconcile the Kalenjin group (dominating KANU leadership)
and the Luo community dominating NDP.
The cooperation concept is a few steps below the realisation of the
government of National Unity as practised in South African and royal oppositions
in United Kingdom. In the case, the government of National Unity is constituted
in the constitution. The constitutional arrangement gives the parties
with 5% of the national vote, a legal framework and obligation to participate
in the government. In this regard, the members take ministerial posts
in government. In the British system, the royal opposition party is the
officially recognised opposition party. In the Kenyan case, the official
opposition is the Democratic Party. (DP) of Mwai Kibaki, former Vice-President.
His party is the real opposition to the ruling party and the cooperating
parties. DP seems to have adopted an old adage of "a" friend of my enemy
is my enemy". The D.P on the other hand is rightly or wrongly accused
of representing the aspiration of the Kikuyu, the largest ethnic group
in Kenya. Fear of Kikuyu domination of the political landscape has forced
other ethnic groups to organise opposition against them with the aim of
neutralising them. Very few ethnic groups are willing to cooperate politically
with the Kikuyu since they are known to be Kikuyu-centric, when it comes
to general elections. They support wholeheartedly one of their own without
fearing repercussions in case of losing. It is almost certain that the
cooperation between KANU and NDP is simply to frustrate D.P in Parliament
and in national politics.
Another aspect of political cooperation and which makes it unique is
that, it lacks the tenets of coalition government. In most coalition governments,
the parties involved share ministerial posts in the government. They have
a common policy and support one another in Parliament. Political cooperation
is like marriages of convenience between the political leaders. It does
not also imply that the members of Parliament belonging to a cooperating
party have any obligation to support the other party. What has emerged
is that there is serious lobbying between members before a stand is taken.
Through the cooperation mechanism, the government has been able to defeat
serious motions like votes of no confidence on the President, and secured
election of KANU candidate as Speaker of National Assembly, and that NDP
candidate as Deputy Speaker against DP and Ford Kenya candidates.
As noted earlier, the political party cooperation is not enshrined
in the constitution nor is it included in party constitutions. As a result,
the cooperating parties do not take ministerial posts but leaders who
have been able to pull the strings behind the scene have members of their
ethnic groups appointed to lucrative positions in the government and in
key parastatals. This has been seen as the direct benefit of cooperation.
In this regard, the ethnic groups participating in cooperation have realised
tangible benefits from the political venture. The government has gone
for the best in Luo community in effecting the policy. In fact, the candidates'
promotion in many cases was overdue because of lack of political goodwill.
Such talented peoples were victimized because of the politics of exclusion
of those communities that did not sing the tune of the ruling party.
has necessitated this political cooperation
Secondly, I think, from the outset, it is important to recognise that
politics is the game of the possible. Two, in politics you maximise your
gains using all the available avenues. Thirdly, a good politician should
be able to gauge the feelings of the masses and be in a position to exploit
those feelings for his advantage. Fourthly, there are no permanent enemies
in politics. How do these three factors come in to interplay in Kenyan
Kenyans, in general, have come to realize that beating President Moi in
general election is an uphill task. He has rightly called himself the
Professor of Kenyan Politics. It is true, Moi is the most experienced
politician in Kenya, having joined active politics in 1955 (44 years ago)
as a nominated member of legislative council. Since that time, he has
never left parliament. At the time of independence, he was the Chairman
of Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) which came to be the main opposition
party in post-independent Kenya. Out of political expediency and need
for unity in 1964, KADU members of Parliament crossed the floor and joined
KANU (the ruling party from 1963 to present). From 1967, he was appointed
Vice President by President Kenyatta and served for eleven years until
Kenyatta died in August, 1987. He easily assumed the presidency in 1978.
He has ruled Kenya a President for twenty-one years. This is no mean experience.
What has enabled him to rule Kenya is the divide-and-rule policy. Throughout
his tenure, he has seen political giants' tumble, enabling him to groom
youthful politicians ready to sing his tune. It would seem that the cooperation
is based on the realization that you can only succeed by joining Moi's
bandwagon. By cooperating, the leader of NDP, Raila Odinga has received
high profile in the corridors of power. He can travel easily without harassment
by provincial administration. Though out the country through this system,
he has been able to create his political niche, that is likely to bear
political dividends, come the next general elections in 2002.
What possibly has puzzled friend and foe is why Raila of all Kenyan politicians
could agree to cooperate. Economic niceties that go with cooperation cannot
be enough political carrot to entice Raila, given the fact that the Odinga
family is not poor. The family has also external connections for financial
support. The cooperation with Moi would have been inconceivable bearing
in mind that Raila has been put in jail and detention by the Moi regime.
It should be noted that during the struggle for a multiparty political
system, he was severely beaten and harassed. In Kenyan politics, it was
only Raila who could organise violence to counter KANU violence. To many
he was the only leader who could give Moi sleepless nights when it came
to underground organisation. Raila, a Russian trained engineer, was an
embodiment of a real fighter of rights of Kenyans and few Kenyans could
not comprehend his decision. It was hoped that the cooperation would enable
a Luo to ascend to power through Moi's support. How this will be possible
is a matter of time as the year 2002 approaches for the third multiparty
elections and intensification of Moi's succession debate. If the promise
of Kalenjin support will be forthcoming, then Raila will be able to have
an extra political constituency that could enable him realize his political
So far the Luo masses seem to be happy with Raila's move. High profile
harambees have been held in Luo Nyanza by KANU heavy weights to raise
bursary funds for Luo children. The first fruit of cooperation was election
of Joab Omino as Deputy Speaker, followed by the appointment of Peter
Raburu as Provincial Commissioner. Other appointments have been effected
in the Foreign Office and in key parastatals. The move has ended Luo isolation
by Kenyan government which started from 1966 when Raila's father Oginga
Odinga formed the Kenya Peoples Union (KPU), making him the doyen of Kenyan
opposition politics. This new move by Raila is definitely going to enable
him to solidify his political base in Nyanza as a leader who can deliver
what the Luos need. The greatest economic benefit is the initiation of
the Sondu Mimu Hydroelectric power station with ten microprojects to benefit
the Luo. The project had been planned for a long time but there was no
political will to implement it. The project will offer job opportunities
to the youth and control the flooding of rivers Nyando and Sondu. Without
political cooperation, these benefits would not have been extended to
the community. Such sectarian politics has been a great hindrance to the
practice of democracy and equitable allocation of national resources to
political cooperation eased ethnic tensions
With the introduction of multiparty politics, Kenyans experienced ethnic
conflicts (clashes) in the Rift Valley and the neighbouring ethnic groups
namely, the Luo, Luhyas, Kisii and Kikuyu. The clashes were triggered
by the fear that the Kalenjin would suffer if Moi was defeated. The above-named
communities apart from the Gussi, were the most vocal on the Moi must
go clarion call, which characterised the 1990-92 campaign for multiparty
democracy. After the two elections (1991 and 1997) these fears seem to
have been misplaced. There is a realization that welders and communities
can cooperate for the common good. There is also a realization that ethnic
conflicts are very costly in terms of manpower and resources. The wielders
of state power also seem to realise that the problems of internal conflicts
in the face of economic hardships are dangerous, hence the need to respond
to those issues that cause conflicts.
There seems to be an understanding among the political elite that the
roots of conflicts lie with African States' failure to respond to Africans
heterogeneous social realities. The failure to recognise the need to coexist
has made government to spend a lot of resources to maintain sycophants,
police and military forces for use to quell internal strife. In the long
run, autocratic regimes were retained though they were unable to deliver
basic services to the people or foster economic development. The system
widened the gap between the state and African societies. The state saw
some communities as enemies of the state which bred opposition with a
strong indigenous base (ethnic-based). However, with acute national poverty,
the government had neither the capacity to wage war nor they money to
alleviate grievences that contributed to the internal clashes. Due to
this, the state had to initiate cooperation to minimize expenditure and
in the long run, it would be in a position to hide her inability to contain
unrest. This also means that the government can rely on cooperating communities
to check the pressures from dissenting groups. In this cooperating system,
councils of elders are formed to advise the youth on the need to be peaceful.
The lack of opportunities for the Luo in the past intensified their opposition.
There were no tangible promotions in the civil service and in parastatals.
Such discrimination tended to show them that they had no stake in the
Kenyan State. The denial of opportunity and impoverishment of the Luo
community linked by primordial ties undoubtedly contributed to the strength
of societal resistance to the state. However, with the few gains so far
attained, their militancy seems to have been tamed as they hope for more.
In future, on the other hand, the leaders are not interested in revenge
or even remembering the dark past or in power for its own sake but in
a better life for themselves, their children, the right to be heard and
a political system firmly based on the consent of the government and more
responsive to their needs. I think this is a virtue to be emulated where
leaders have victory over self and aspire for the wider good of the society.
The main cause of conflicts is selfishness on the part of leaders, and
lack of capacity and freedom to forgive their enemies. Most leaders in
Africa think that by settling scores with opponents makes them heroes.
It would be important to learn that there is victory for those who strive
In other words, political leaders in the political divide should be sensitive
to any avenues that could offer reconciliation and peaceful coexistence.
Conflicting aspirations and interests, if they are truly recognised and
faced, can lead to acceptable compromise. Genuine love demands justice
in human relationships that can only be attained by honesty, which is
likely to be painful. The leaders in cooperation have to subordinate their
ego for the sake of the nation. The main hindrance to cooperation is hypocrisy
on the part of leaders or what has come to be popularly known in Kenyan
politics as the hidden agenda. Openness would be the greatest virtue for
healing the mistrust that has clouded the three decades of political practice
in Africa. This notion confirms perfectly Alexander Herzen's contention
that "only the strong acknowledges his fault, only the strong is humble,
only the strong forgives and indeed only the strong laughs, though often
his laughter is equal to tears". ( Badin; 1981:141)
The lesson learnt so far is that the masses are peaceful and obedient.
The leaders are responsible for peace or conflicts experienced in the
society. If leaders can cooperate at the national level and translate
the cooperation into tangible gains, the masses will not fight. However,
the failure by leaders to cooperate makes the likelihood of inciting their
ethnic followers very high.
party cooperation and oppostion politics in Kenya
There is fear among reformist politicians that political party cooperation
will not augur well for political development in Kenya. These politicians
believe that all stakeholders can only reform the Moi regime through concerted
effort and that cooperation with him enables him to mark time on the constitutional
reform process. Secondly, members of the opposition argue that cooperation
waters down the whole essence of opposition politics whose objective is
to keep the government on its toes. However, what has come out of the
cooperation is members' awareness of the right to criticise the government
an equal footing with backbenchers belonging to the ruling party. Equally
important, is the realisation that the cooperating party can advise the
government in secret and in confidence to thwart would be crisis in the
In the absence of a formal coalition government in most African states,
the adoption of political party cooperation is a mechanism that is likely
to ease ethnic tension in many plural societies. This is based on political
party formations in Africa, where they draw a major following from ethnic
groups; thus, political party cooperation implies ethnic cooperation between
the members forming the parties.
It should be noted that political party cooperation based on ethnic following
might translate into the exclusion of the non-cooperative parties and,
by extension non-cooperating ethnic groups. The system (if not handled
carefully could create conflicts between the ethnic groups forming the
political divide. The main danger of this cooperation is that non-cooperating
regions are likely to be victimized despite the fact that they are entitled
to development. It would be too unfair for the government to forfeit her
responsibility in national development in favour of certain regions. Possibly,
it would make political sense, if resources were extended to non-ruling
party zones as an attempt to woo opponents.
To crown it all, political stability and easing of ethnic tension has
been realized in those nations that leaders have been able to cooperate
like in South Africa and Zimbabwe.
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Copson R.W, Africa's wars and prospects for peace. M.E. Shape,
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De Wall, V. Politics of Reconciliation in Zimbambwe's First decade.
Hurst and Coy London 1990
Kaunda,K. Kaunda on Violence. Collins London 1980.
Kenyatta, J. Suffering without Bitterness, E.A.P.H Nairobi, 1968.
The ideas and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author
and do not necessarily reflect the views of UNESCO.
Les idées et opinions exprimées dans cette article sont
celles de l'auteur
et n’engagent pas la responsabilité de l´UNESCO.