On The Future of Orange Politics in Kenya

Apr 08, 13 On The Future of Orange Politics in Kenya

“He who joyfully marches to music rank and file has already earned my contempt. He has been given a large brain by mistake, since for him the spinal cord would surely suffice.”

-Albert Einstein

A curious element of mature democracies is how political parties or movements deal with electoral loss. It cannot be ignored that many of those who voted for Raila Odinga are not particularly elated by the judgement of the Supreme Court. Yet the outcome has brought closure to the 2013 election contest that was mainly between the winning Jubilee Coalition that is led by Uhuru Kenyatta; and the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD) that was led by Odinga.

The shock of the outcome has sent CORD supporters wallowing in sorrow. Some seem to have assigned the court ruling pseudo biblical comparisons to the release of Barabbas. Nevertheless, in this darkest of night those who stand for democracy must find a way to see the brightest of day.  It is not time to begrudge the Chief Justice and his team as amicus impunitatem. This is too harsh even for a court of public opinion. A detailed judgement will be released and the conclusions that will be drawn from it can then serve as lessons for the ages.

For most CORD supporters, the feeling of affront is buried deep within their inherent idealism. This optimism is grounded in the reform movement in Kenyan history that promises inclusivity in all spheres of life within the polity. However, the raw emotion of betrayal that is being exhibited in the continuing callous chatter of social media and the whispered conversations among different core elements of CORD support should lead to a place of self reflection. Thus the question on whether there is a steadfast commitment to ‘Orange’ politics?

Orange politics is the political belief in constitutional democratic processes that sprouted from the legacy of the 2005 referendum and whose genesis can be traced to the reform struggles of Kenya’s history. The symbol of an orange was assigned to those who were against the proposed ‘Waki’ draft. While the issues of debate were in regards executive powers, land reforms and religious courts most Kenyans took the referendum as an opportunity to show approval or disapproval of the Kibaki administration. This was the fissure that drove the country to the near abysmal situation of 2007/8.

A post-chaos coalition government and a subsequent referendum led to the fulfilment of a new constitution that curtailed excessive executive powers; established devolved government; enhanced freedoms; and instituted rights. This mainly came about as a result of, among other factors, the agenda of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) party which is the core manifestation of Orange politics.

Initially championed by the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) and the Kenya African National Union (KANU), the resulting formation of ODM became the centrepiece of Orange political activity under the guidance of Odinga. Subsequent fallout led to the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement-Kenya (ODM-K)-later the Wiper Democratic Movement (WDM) under the leadership of Kalonzo Musyoka; The National Alliance (TNA) led by Uhuru Kenyatta; and United Republican Party (URP) by William Ruto. Messrs Kenyatta and Rutto are now set to be president and deputy president respectively under the Jubilee coalition after a court ruling buy the Supreme Court legitimized their win which was challenged by Odinga.

This occurrence can be premised to have taken place within a context of –to use a classical description-an emergent ideological posturing. In this environment continuing realignments came about with new political questions, parties and agendas at a state, regional and international level. Ideologically, two major alignments stand out. First is a nationalist bloc that has historically espoused the centralization of power in policy, law and administration of governance.

This bloc is primarily concerned with unifying the country for its aims and it can be described as conservative considering its independence legacy that runs through the narrative of Harambee and Nyayo. Second is the democratic bloc that has advocated the decentralization of state control. This communion seeks inclusivity in the affairs of the Kenyan commonwealth and can be described as reformist considering its legacy of struggle through advocating for constitutionalism as captured in the legacy of the repeal of Section 2A, the Inter-Parties parliamentary Group (IPPG) agreement, and two constitutional referendums.

Also, within this context there exist centrist blocs and fringe movements. The first centrist element can be termed as a pragmatic syndicate that is primarily concerned with the stability of the country. A salient bureaucratic offshoot of nationalism this pragmatism comes from the legacy of Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1963 on African Socialism and Its Application to Planning in Kenya. This manifested under the candidature of Musalia Mudavadi through his United Democratic Forum (UDF).The second centrist element –which is also an offshoot of nationalism-can be described as a republican constituency that is ‘of the law, by the law and for the law’. This hereby meaning its aim and purpose is the defence of due process in governance principally by legal and administrative means. This facet was represented by the candidature of Martha Karua through the National Rainbow Coalition-Kenya (NARC-K), and Peter Kenneth’s Kenya National Congress (KNC).

Lastly are the fringe movements. These are peripheral entities from the centre of political contestation. Small political parties-whose champion became Mohammed Abduba Dida with his Alliance for Real Change (ARC); civil society; the private sector; and media fit in this classification. Their participation in the affairs of the commonwealth is subject to their interests and favourability of alignments.

So did Orange politics falter and become a political instrument to settle tribal scores as captured by the vitriol of the resulting lamentations? This reflective question on the general public’s commitment to Orange politics should examine the loss in a way that compels the denunciation that tribal mobilization was the winning formula on this election. If CORD supporters are to accept this as a credible proposition then nothing stops them from using such political methods in future contests. This would be a strategy contrary to its current position and its overall idealistic premise. The alluring simplicity of the argument on ‘tyrannical’ numbers could easily blind CORD constituents from acknowledging inherent faults in their campaign.

First is the dependence on what James Verini has termed in Foreign Policy as ‘the force of international condemnation’ over ‘national conscience’. The understanding of the International Criminal Court (ICC) case as an external relations construct rather a local issue did not recognize the national guilt of Kenyans who understood that in all this, they may have partly contributed in one form or the other to the mess that was the post-election violence. Secondly, the campaign was not audacious enough in its discipline of organization and in the ideals that it stood for. The land question, a subject that CORD put on the table, exposed a level of insincerity in their campaign. Considering the timing, this mixed public perceptions on the matter especially in light of how sensitive the subject is in the country.

Further contemplation forces an examination of other aspects.  In this category, the first concerns the electoral debate. Did the discussion on sanctions amount to fear mongering? Why didn’t it appeal to the considerations of the masses? Can it be said, that, this was a complex middle class discussion that required a level of simplicity to appeal more to the lower class. In response to the campaign charges laid at their feet, the Jubilee coalition defiantly crafted credible responses in tandem with the national psyche-know referred to as ‘moving on’ politics- granting them various degrees of legitimacy.

The second is the diminishing identity of reform. What is the difference between the reformist and the conservative in terms of development ideals, process of policy making, manner of decision making; levels of implementation; and degree of actualization, now that this collective has had a reasonable taste of power since 2002. Why didn’t this come out clearly during the campaign? The contrast of any existing styles should have been stark enough to leave no doubt in the minds of the electorate on why CORD deserved a landslide victory.

Mutuma Mathiu captures it best; the “Left has learnt all the bad manners of the old establishment”. The imagery associated with the CORD candidature shows that there is an exceeding compromise on issues which is to its own detriment; or the left is inherently compromised and has no authority on issues concerning the state; international political economy and freedom-with all its associated liberties.

Nevertheless, to claim that the left has lost the logic for its existence is to conformism at the altar of nationalist triumphalism. Leftist politics, if contextualised in the Kenyan space to mean the democracy of reformist credentials is necessary now more than ever. The questions of future leadership; the integrity of institutions; the implementation of devolution and reform of the electoral system are still begging answers. It would therefore be irresponsible for the CORD axis to tuck its tail and not contribute any solutions to them.

The leadership question demands a move from personalities to institutions. Transparent, democratic processes are necessary. The ‘spoils’ system of awarding positions must give way to a merit system that puts a premium on ability rather than on patronage an or sycophancy. This should target a cleaner nomination exercise come the next election cycle. The purity of devolution must be defended. Here the constitution’s spirit reigns supreme due to the bipartisan need to deliver on campaign promises, service delivery, and development goals for the actualization of human rights as guaranteed in the constitution.

Lastly, there has to be an engagement on reforming the electoral system. The hype by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on effectiveness did nothing to tackle the sheer magnitude of its systemic complexity. This certainly requires an overhaul that makes its conduct more transparent and credible. There may also be a need for a staggered arrangement to prevent the lumping of issues and constituencies that blur executive issues at the centre from those of the county.

Of course this has to be done in the face of challenges which will mainly revolve around the management of the coalition so that it presents a credible opposition in parliament. A major issue to guard against is the fragmentation to oblivion of the coalition and individual parties within it so as not to follow the example as exemplified by the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD), National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), and KANU.

The focus must squarely intend to implement the constitution while actualizing prosperity. This means that this so called left should not aim to stifle any progress achieved by the incoming administration but ensure their achievements do not infringe upon the rights of Kenyans in the pursuit of growth. This will allow for consolidation of strongholds and providing an opportunity to seek support in new areas based on the track records of CORD county governments.

Therefore, keeping support and winning followers will require rejuvenation in terms of the provision of new leadership to capture elective posts, constructive messaging, and visionary ideas. Orange politics must peacefully re-engineer the debate on how best to confront the past within the context of pursuing prosperity and the national psyche. For as Mr. Abduba Dida ably put it in the course of the presidential debates “How will Kenya find harmony if some feet are still stepping on the peoples toes?”

Image by Radio Nederland Wereldomroep