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Human Rights

Power Sharing a “Dangerous Concept” for Kenya’s Democracy

Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission chair Mzalendo Kibunjia, (right) flanked by constitutional expert Paddy Onyango (left) says that the country should opt for power sharing in the next government. Credit: Brian Ngugi/IPS

NAIROBI , Feb 25 2013 (IPS) - Days ahead of Kenya’s general elections, the country’s former deputy Minister of Information Koigi Wamwere has slammed calls for power-sharing among minority ethnic groups in the next government, calling it a “dangerous concept”.

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), a government agency set up to address inter-ethnic conflict, and a section of Kenyan civil society have called for this East African nation to adopt negotiated democracy as a way to stem the deep-seated differences between various ethnic groups here.

Ethnic violence followed Kenya’s disputed December 2007 poll, claiming around 1,200 lives and displacing 600,000 people.

But Wamwere told IPS that a sharing of power could threaten the country’s young, multiparty democracy.

“It is pure nonsense to imagine that Kenyans are not ready to live with democracy. Democracy is not easy to implement, but we should not opt for short cuts, but go by its principles for the long-term good of the country,” he said.

All eyes are on Kenya to see whether it will avoid a repetition of the 2007 violence when it goes to the polls on Mar. 4. Several rights groups, including Human Rights Watch (HRW), Amnesty International and the International Crisis Group (ICG), have warned that this year’s elections could be ethnically divisive if rising tensions are not curbed.

According to HRW, inter-communal clashes related to pre-electioneering have claimed more than 477 lives and displaced some 118,000 people since the beginning of 2012.

But according to the chair of the NCIC, Mzalendo Kibunjia, negotiated democracy – a system in which political power is shared evenly among various ethnic and interest groups – would enhance inclusion among Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups by doing away with Kenya’s current political model where “the winners take all and the losers lose all until the next elections.”

“Kenyan politics is about numbers and you get those numbers, not by selling ideas, but by retreating into your tribal cocoons. This means that small tribes continually feel neglected once the dominant ones win power, and this feeling of seclusion is being replicated in the run-up to this election,” Kibunjia told IPS.

But Wamwere, who is author of the book “Negative Ethnicity: From Bias to Genocide”, which looks at the ways ethnic rivalries in Africa undermine democracy, pours cold water on claims that power-sharing enhances inclusion and cohesion among various ethnic communities.

“If people are clear about whom they want to be led by, that person can come from the smallest ethnic community or grouping in the country,” he said.

Retired President Daniel Arap Moi, whose regime spanned 24 years from 1978 to 2002 and was widely seen as dictatorial, had embraced a similar mode of politics by insisting that Kenya was not ready for democracy, according to Wamwere.

“Moi kept telling Kenyans that they were not ready for multiparty politics and democracy,” he said, “And that is partly how he maintained his grip on power for more than two decades. Kenyans should be wary of those advocating for negotiated democracy.”

Cedric Barnes, Horn of Africa project director at the ICG, agreed that Kenya was ripe for democracy in its original sense and a repetition of the 2007 post-election violence was unlikely.

“If (in 2007) Kenya had strong and independent institutions such as a strong judiciary and electoral body that could have instilled confidence among Kenyans, this would have seen people confide in its institutions, reducing the risk of people taking to the streets and against each other to protest election results,” Barnes told IPS. He added that since the country’s new constitution was adopted in 2010, it had strengthened government and institutional frameworks.

But Cyprian Nyamwamu, the executive director of the National Convention Executive Council, which lobbies for good governance and reform, told IPS that there was needed for the inclusion of minority groups and communities in the government.

“Negotiated democracy is a platform to end suspicion and mistrust among antagonistic groups,” said Nyamwamu. “Whereas the new constitution has brought checks and balances of executive power and devolution promises to promote equal distribution of resources, we need negotiated democracy to ensure that all ethnic groups are brought to the table.”

According to Rose Waruhiu, a Democratic Party of Kenya politician and former member of the East African Legislative Assembly, the idea is a practical one for Kenya.

“Any party that wants to lead in today’s Kenya must reach out to all the various ethnic groups in the country. All ethnic groups want to see parties and politicians reach out to them in a special manner and, as such, negotiated democracy is a plus for both politician and voter,” Waruhiu told IPS.

Most say that it will take more than the negotiated sharing of elective positions to heal the country and enhance ethnic cohesion.

The Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission of Kenya, which was set up to investigate past injustices and lead reconciliation efforts, has yet to file a report three years after its formation.

Leadership wrangles and financial problems have rocked the commission, whose mandate covers alleged violations between December 1963 and February 2008, and has delayed its work by over six months.

It remains unknown when the commission will file its report after parliament refused to grant it an extension.



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