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VOLUME 18, NO. 1-2 (MAY-JULY 2003)

The 2002 Elections The Road Travelled, The Lessons Learned


Beyond Campaign Rhetoric - Challenges for the NARC Government

by Peter Wanyande

This article examines the major challenges to which the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) government must pay attention. These major challenges are:

  • Maintaining the coalition;
  • Restoring peoples' confidence in the government and its institutions;
  • Instilling a sense of purpose and new direction among public servants;
  • Revitalizing the economy;
  • Fighting corruption;
  • Fulfilling its campaign promises.

The major argument of this article is that while the challenges facing the new government are not insurmountable, they require very careful handling. The new government will therefore have to tread very cautiously as it tries to correct the mess caused by its predecessor KANU. It is particularly important that the new government does not loose the popular support and legitimacy to rule that the Kenyans bestowed on it on 30th December 2002. This goodwill is necessary for the fulfillment of its promises.

The Birth of the Opposition Coalition

Sometime in 2002 a number of opposition political parties decided to form an electoral pact for purposes of dislodging KANU from power. The main parties in this pact were the Democratic Party of Kenya (DP), Ford Kenya, the National Party of Kenya (NPK), a faction of the Social Democratic party led by Professor Anyang' Nyong'o and some twelve other parties. These parties named the new political alliance born out of this initiative the National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK). NAK was later joined by a group of politicians who had abandoned KANU after disagreeing with the party chairman over the methods to be used by KANU to nominate its presidential candidate. This group, that included Raila Odinga, George Saitoti, Kalonzo Musyoka and William Ole Ntimama, had hoped that the nomination of the KANU presidential candidate would be open and carried out by the delegates in a transparent manner. It turned out, however, that President Moi, who was also Chairman of KANU, had a preferred candidate by the name of Uhuru Kenyatta.

As chairman of KANU, Moi tried to prevail upon other interested contestants to support his preferred candidate. This did not go down very well with some KANU politicians, especially those like Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and George Saitoti who also had presidential ambitions. Saitoti had served as Moi's Vice-President for about 13 years while Musyoka had served as a minister for many years. These two ministers plus Raila were definitely more experienced than Uhuru who had been an MP only since October of 2001, the time when Moi nominated him. In fact, he had been defeated in the 1997 elections. One would have expected Moi to identify one of his long serving ministers as his preferred candidate for the presidency. When he failed to do so the older and more experienced politicians felt betrayed. It is against this background that they decided they would not be party to the nomination of Uhuru as the KANU presidential candidate. Consequently, they teamed up to form the Rainbow Coalition, which later formed a party called the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP). This was necessary for it to be able to join NAK. The latter being a coalition of registered political parties, the Rainbow Coalition could not join it itself became a registered party. The new political alliance acquired the name National Rainbow Coalition (NARC). It was as NARC that this coalition of parties went to the poll on 27th December 2002 to face KANU.

The idea of an electoral pact among opposition political parties was necessitated by the electoral experiences of 1992 and 1997. In both elections the opposition parties lost to KANU even though it was evident that KANU was unpopular. The opposition parties realized that the only way KANU could be dislodged from power was through opposition unity, even if only for purpose of elections.

NARC registered an impressive win over KANU and the other opposition parties. Consequently its leader, Mr. Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as President on 30thth December 2002. He went on to name his cabinet a week later and took this opportunity to reiterate NARC's campaign pledges. These included provision of free primary education, the fight against corruption, professionalism in the management of public affairs, the conclusion of the constitutional review, and the revival of the economy. These were important promises and it is against these promises that the NARC government will be judged.

The Challenges to NARC

The challenges to NARC are daunting. This is so for at least two reasons. The first is that NARC is a coalition of political parties with very divergent ideological orientations, not to mention personality differences. These personality differences were the major cause for the failure of the opposition parties to unite against KANU in 1992 and 1997general elections. The coalition is thus, for all intents and purposes, a union of convenience. Secondly, Kenya has never had a coalition government before. It is therefore a major political experiment and like any experiment its success cannot be guaranteed.

Maintaining the coalition. NARC has two interrelated challenges with respect to the maintenance of the coalition. The first challenge is for the coalition to maintain internal discipline. The second is to ensure that its constituent parts do not disintegrate or go their separate ways. There are already indications of problems in maintaining internal party discipline in NARC. The Liberal Democratic party, for example, has openly expressed its displeasure at the way the President has made public appointments. LDP argues that the President has flouted a memorandum of understanding agreed on by the coalition prior to the elections. The MoU formed the basis of the coalition in that it spelt out the terms of the parties coming together.

Unfortunately, the MoU has not been made public. It is therefore difficult to verify the complaints by LDP regarding the MoU. It must be noted, however, that NARC as the ruling coalition, found these expressions of dissent serious enough to warrant a meeting of all its member parties with a view to addressing them. Perhaps the biggest evidence of the instability in NARC and which may be a major threat to the success of the coalition was the passing of the Finance Bill against the wishes of the government. This was possible because the opposition ganged up with dissatisfied NARC members to frustrate the Government.

Restoring the public's confidence in the government and in its institutions. The NARC government is also faced with the daunting challenge of restoring the public's confidence in the government and in its institutions. One of the major shortcomings of the KANU regime was its failure to strengthen the institutions of governance. Indeed, it may be more accurate to observe that KANU undermined the efficacy and relevance of public governance institutions. The institutions we have in mind include the judiciary, the legislature, the executive and local authorities. Consequently, the public lost confidence in these institutions. It is common knowledge, for example, that victims of crime failed to or are reluctant to report crimes to the police because they believed that the police will not take the necessary action.

The threat and subsequent attempt by civil society in the run up to the 1997 elections to take over the constitutional review process was yet another indication of what we are saying here. Civil society argued that it had no confidence in the legislature to steer the process because, in their view, the legislature was not legitimately constituted. They believed that the 1992 elections had been rigged. These examples will suffice to show that the public had lost confidence in the government and its institutions.

The new government needs to restore peoples' confidence in these institutions and by extension the government. This is not going to be an easy task.

Instilling a sense of purpose and new direction among public servants. In order to restore confidence in its institutions, the government needs to instill motivation in public servants and to take measures to restore their self-confidence in themselves. Civil servants must be given a new direction of where NARC wishes to go and how they can contribute to the new vision. This requires that visionary people be appointed to top leadership positions in the public service. Appointing retired persons to these offices will only discourage younger and more enthusiastic public servants who are being denied an opportunity to rise up the ladder on account of this recycling of old guards. This will not help steer this county to greater heights of development at all. The government must therefore think very carefully before making public appointments. This does not seem to have been done so far as evidenced by the many expressions of discontent with the quality of the people appointed so far.

Revitalizing the economy. The other major challenge that NARC will have to grapple with has to do with the revival of the economy. The Kenyan economy has been on the decline since the 1980s and by the time NARC took over power the economy was actually registering negative growth. Among the factors responsible for the economic decline, two major ones stand out. The first is the sheer mismanagement of the economy by the previous government. The second was the institutionalization of corruption. One aspect of economic mismanagement by the KANU regime was the appetite for conspicuous consumption. The government of president Moi appeared to have been in love with grandiose public projects including those that were not economically viable. The best examples are the Eldoret International Airport and the purchase of a presidential jet even as the economy was on its downward trend.

Perhaps the biggest problem with the economy has been its inability to generate employment for the growing labour force. As a result, unemployment is one of the biggest socio- economic problems in the country. It is no wonder that job creation was designated as one of the priorities of the NARC government. While this is a step in the right direction, the revival of the economy and indeed the creation of jobs will have to take into account several other factors. To begin with, the revival of the economy and in particular job creation will require massive investment by both domestic and international entrepreneurs. The Government alone cannot do it, but it must provide the enabling environment.

In this regard the provision of a secure environment is a must. Investors can only invest in an environment where security is guaranteed. Unfortunately for NARC, the KANU government did not invest many public resources in security. Indeed, it was largely due to the lack of or insufficient security that investment in Kenya declined to its current low levels. The NARC government therefore has to address the issue of security very seriously if it hopes to attract investors to the country. Private militias and gangs such as Mungiki will have to be wiped out. The government will also have to deal with issues of politically motivated violence such as the tribal clashes that preceded the 1992 and 1997 elections Fighting corruption. The government will also have to address the problem of corruption as a way of dealing with the revival of the economy. Even the previous government acknowledged corruption as one of the major ills afflicting the economy. Indeed, its eradication has been made a condition for continued foreign aid to the country. The World Bank, and in particular the International Monetary Fund, have pegged continued assistance to Kenya on the eradication of corruption. It is against this background that the government was very jittery about the possibility of parliament rejecting or defeating the Anti Corruption and Public Servants Ethics Bill that was lined up for debate in the first session of the 9th parliament. This fear was fuelled by the passage of the Finance bill against the wish of the government.

Keeping its campaign promises. The final challenge to the NARC government that we wish to address has to do with its ability to keep and fulfill its campaign promises. This challenge must be met if NARC is to maintain its popularity and public support. NARC must not repeat the mistakes of the previous regime because doing so would lead to the loss of peoples' confidence. Good governance requires that a government fulfill its obligations to the people. This is the minimum that is entailed in a social contract that the government and the people enter into at election time.

It would not be possible in this paper to enumerate all the promises that NARC made to the electorate and which it must fulfill as part of its obligation to the people. It is true, however, that NARC made several promises whose fulfillment or failure will have a bearing on its continued enjoyment of public support. One such promise was to have a new constitution. Speeding up the constitutional review process and adopting a new constitution is thus a major challenge to the NARC government. This is so precisely because there are many vested interests in the constitutional review. These interests are to be found in government, the Constitutional Review Commissioners as well as in civil society as a whole. They are so strong that, if not addressed, they could derail the process.

It is particularly important that the government should not interfere with the key provisions of the draft constitution, namely the devolution of powers and the creation of the position of Prime Minister. These are issues that Kenyans are very concerned about on account of the misuse of power by the previous regime.


Finally, it must be noted that all the above challenges relate to issues of governance. The NARC government therefore has the big challenge of improving the quality of governance in Kenya. This requires, among other things, introducing accountability and transparency in the management of public affairs. It must also involve the use of and reliance on public institutions to govern as opposed to the personalized rule that characterized the previous regime. Basically, they have the major task of undoing the evils of the past regime. A major challenge indeed!

Published Quarterly by DR. GERALD J. WANJOHI
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