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Despite rocky search for Opposition unity, Bomas resolve a scare for Jubilee

By Wainaina Ndung'u | Published Thu, January 12th 2017 at 00:00, Updated January 12th 2017 at 00:01 GMT +3
Leaders from left: KANU SG Nick Salat, ANC Musalia Mudavadi, Wiper Leader Kalonzo Musyoka, Gospel Singer Helena Ken, Raila Odinga and Ford Kenya Moses Wetangula dance during NASA meeting at Bomas of Kenya on Wednesday 11/01/17. [PHOTO:BONIFACE OKENDO/Standard]

The symbolic show of Opposition unity at Bomas of Kenya yesterday set off a political journey well travelled before, albeit with mixed fortunes.

While statements of intent about cobbling together a broad-based opposition alliance have been easy to come by, the harder part has been to sustain the unity and to rally the competing interests behind a single candidate.

Since the re-introduction of multi-party democracy in 1991, Kenya's opposition has always yearned for unity but it has not always been easy clobbering and maintaining a united front.

The only two instances the opposition has gone into battle united, it has triumphed beyond the expectations of even the fiercest skeptics.

In 2002, against the expectations of even their most ardent supporters, the opposition crafted Kenya's most formidable political alliance with the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) registering the most convincing electoral victory in Kenya's multiparty history.

Then in 2005, a united opposition front, although in a loose coalition, convincingly beat the government in the constitutional referendum aborting the proposed constitution.

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The Orange revolution gave birth to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) which has been a key political factor in the country for the last 10 years.

But the subsequent attempt to win power in the 2007 elections was a different ball game with two main coalition insiders – Kanu's Uhuru Kenyatta and splinter Orange faction led by Kalonzo Musyoka – having exited for different reasons.

Yet, it has always made sense that only a united opposition can challenge the incumbent government since the re-introduction of multiparty politics in 1991.

Kanu, which had ruled Kenya since independence in 1963 and as the only de jure one party since 1982, was under siege from international pressure and local agitation to allow political pluralism around 1990.

The nascent opposition had hitherto acted in unison with leading lights such as the late Jaramogi Odinga Oginga, Masinde Muliro, Martin Shikuku, Ahmed Salim Bamahariz, Philip Gachoka, James Orengo, Paul Muite and George Nthenge operating under the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (Ford), sending pointers that they would be united in removing Kanu when elections are called.

There were no pointers that even the opposition leaders in detention such as Raila Odinga, Kenneth Matiba and Charles Rubia would have any reasons to betray the cause.

Yet with Matiba, Rubia and Raila out of detention, the fallout was fast and furious. Thus the opposition went into the 1992 elections divided into Ford-Kenya under Jaramogi and Muliro while Shikuku and Matiba led the Ford-Asili faction.

Kanu therefore comfortably won the 1992 elections although garnering only 1.9 million votes against the joint opposition's over 3 million votes.

In 1997, Kanu's President Moi garnered 2.5 million against Kibaki (Democratic Party) 1.9 million, Raila's (National Development Party) 667,886, Michael Kijana Wamalwa (FORD–Kenya) 505,704 and Ngilu (Social Democratic Party) 488,600 votes.

At that point, it was still clear that only the elusive unity was preventing the opposition from beating Kanu with the combined votes almost one million more than the winning team.

By early 2002, Kibaki, Ngilu and Ford Kenya leader Wamalwa Kijana had laid some groundwork to field a single opposition presidential candidate under the National Alliance of Kenya (Nak) but by then their numbers appeared no match for Kanu which had swallowed Raila Odinga's National Development Party (NDP) and courted Uhuru Kenyatta.

A fallout over the Kanu presidential candidate would hand the opposition a lifeline when Raila spearheaded a revolt that took away other leaders including ministers George Saitoti and Kalonzo Musyoka to join Kibaki-Wamalwa-Ngilu's Nak.

Narc delivered the only baby of a joint opposition coalition in Kenya in the 2002 elections in which Kibaki comfortably defeated Kanu's Uhuru Kenyatta with 3.6 million votes (61.3 per cent) against 1.8 million (30.2 per cent).

Yesterday's meeting at Bomas, however, provides a real scare for the ruling coalition if the alliance can hold with such diverse leaders in a union. If the alliance prevails, it could herald Kenya's second change of power from the ruling alliance and the first for a sitting president to lose his re-election bid.

The voter registration offers opportunity for either coalition to tilt the scales their way with official records showing 9 million eligible voters are yet to be listed.

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