Kenyans on their own after Opposition goes to bed with Government

ANC Leader Musalia Mudavadi addressing press at party headquarters. [Edward Kiplimo/Standard]

The appointment of two top opposition supremos to key diplomatic positions is the final blow to the opposition as the Government seeks to eradicate dissidents.

Through the assistance of President Uhuru Kenyatta, National Super Alliance (NASA) leader Raila Odinga was named the Africa Union High Representative for Infrastructure Development, while his counterpart Kalonzo Musyoka was picked to head the Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission on peace in South Sudan.

The diplomatic responsibilities, which followed the famous handshake between Uhuru and Raila - his fiercest political rival in the past two elections - appear to have announced the Opposition’s death and raised questions about NASA’s ability to oversight Government.

Commentators yesterday termed the move dangerous for a democracy, saying it gave the Jubilee administration a blank cheque to run its affairs with minimal or no opposition.

Amani National Congress party leader Musalia Mudavadi, one of the two remaining opposition voices in NASA, slammed his co-principals for ‘sleeping with Government’ and abandoning their followers.

“As can be seen, the choice to be in Jubilee government is personal and the current reciprocation to individuals who have pledged loyalty remains personal. It is out of desperation and want for self-fulfillment. I have faced such a dilemma before but stood for democratic principles,” Mr Mudavadi told The Standard.

He said that in 2002 after losing the Sabatia parliamentary seat, Kanu offered him a nomination to Parliament but he declined.

“I didn’t need a backdoor entry into Parliament after the people of Sabatia had granted me leave. I bid my time and the people of Sabatia gave me back the seat in 2007,” said Mudavadi.

He claimed that after the 2013 elections, he was offered a Cabinet position.

“I receptively declined. Again, principle overrode everything. I had been in competition with the President for the position he was using to offer me employment. Taking up such appointment would have made nonsense of my 2013 presidential bid and even future bids,” he said. 

“I therefore don’t believe opposition must cease to exist. You cannot be in Government and in opposition at the same time. Its deceitful and unconvincing.” 

Imposition of eight per cent value added tax (VAT) on petroleum products, corruption and delays in disbursement of subsidised fertiliser are some of the issues the opposition has not spoken out against.

While Kenyans loudly protested the VAT, they lacked a leader especially after both Raila and Kalonzo backed the Government’s move.

Civil society groups joined Mudavadi in protesting the move, saying the decision by the two NASA top leaders had left Kenyans at the mercy of a spendthrift Government -keen on placing hefty burdens on taxpayers’ shoulders to meet their development promises.

Kioko Ireri, who chairs the journalism and communications department at United States International University, said it was important for the opposition to provide “checks and balances because governments commit many excesses” that if not checked can ruin a country.

He argued that Raila should not have abandoned his role as opposition boss “because many Kenyans depended on him”.

“He has been leading the anti-graft fight. His sustained efforts paid off when some key Government leaders stepped aside over corruption allegations. That strong leading voice is not here now,” said Prof Ireri.

Frank Matanga, a political science professor at Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology, urged clerics, radical labour and student movements and the civil society to fill the void left by Raila and Kalonzo.

“What we have now is a weakened opposition infiltrated by the ruling regime and can’t now provide checks and balances to the regime. We need a civil society like the one that agitated for the repeal of the contentious Section 2A of the Constitution to usher in multi-partyism,” said Prof Matanga.

He urged the public to be fully involved in governance issues.

“The danger is that the civil society can easily be co-opted into Government just like the opposition leaders. Let people adopt a participatory political culture rather than a subject political culture,” he added.

Mudavadi said despite the move by Kalonzo and Raila, the remaining leaders in NASA must continue playing their roles of checking Government.

“Being Opposition is the legitimate and constitutional assignment of NASA. (Our job is to) help keep a balance of power, provide checks and balances, sustain democracy, and maintain the constitutional requirement of Kenya as a multiparty State,” he said.

“To abdicate that honourable responsibility is to betray the millions who voted for NASA. It would be difficult to convince them that you can achieve what you told them that you stand for by joining to serve your erstwhile opponent.”

He urged Kenyans to ask themselves whether an election was worth it if the outcome is for opposition to join forces with the victorious side.

“Granted, at no time during the campaign did we aspire to be in Opposition. It is the outcome that confined us there. But at no time also did we ask Kenyans to vote for us to be in Government formed by others,” said Mudavadi.

Ndung’u Wainaina, the executive director of International Centre for Policy and Conflict, said civil society groups give voice to citizens’ rights and hold governments to account in any flourishing democracy.

“Civil society groups have been facing increasing infringements on their freedom of association, assembly and expression. It is becoming dangerous to challenge power, sometimes doing so results in reprisals. This has limited the work of civil society groups,” said Mr Wainaina.

“Civil society groups must rebuild and recast themselves differently. They must find new ways of connecting with the public,” he said.”

Lawyer Charles Kanjama said the Law Society of Kenya cannot be of much help.

“Ours is to check that those in Government and opposition obey the law. We are not a substitute for the opposition. If media, Parliament or citizens blow the whistle, we come to provide legal advice,” said Mr Kanjama.

Consumer Federation of Kenya Secretary General Stephen Mutoro called on Kenyans to replace the ‘dying’ opposition. “We need a bottom-up approach where ordinary citizens are active in checking Government excesses. We are now more informed and we have a vibrant social media population. Let them rise up and fill this vacuum left by opposition,” said Mutoro.