Negotiated democracy taking over political space in Kenya

Osman Shariff Abikar (left) receives a certificate from Shariff Abdulahi Hamed, chairman Somali council of elders, March 2022.  [Bruno Mutunga, Standard]

Democracy is a very interesting concept. Simply it is a government of the people by the people for the people, with the free expression of the will of the people at its core.

The equality of vote and the importance of secrecy of vote are important components of democracy. The freedoms and liberties associated with democracy, mostly political rights, include; access to public information, free speech and expression, freedom of movement and association and security of persons and the protection by the Government.

In our six periodic elections held every five years, to elect the President (and Running Mate), a Governor (and Running Mate), Senator, Women’s Representative, Member of Parliament and Member of County Assembly; candidates/contestants are either sponsored by political parties or vie as independent candidates through specified procedures of internal nominations and other required democratic processes.

In the case of candidates sponsored by political parties, the process is party primaries. Since the adoption of Political Parties Act (PPA) and subsequent amendments, pre and post-election coalitions have become the arena through which political party politics are played and in the recent past we are witnessing super-coalition-political parties known as Coalition Parties (CPs).

Created by the most recent amendments to the PPA, CPs are an umbrella of many political parties brought together by the desire to bring regional/tribal political support and following to guarantee formidable voting blocks. They may not necessarily share the same philosophies or even values but they come together to win and form the next government. This is why after elections there is a general lull in activities in political parties until the next election. 

Before the 2002 elections, political parties chose their candidates through their delegates conferences, especially their presidential candidates who were generally unopposed. Candidates for MPs and Councilors were chosen through nomination processes, which were generally less contested or through negotiated democracy, many got direct nominations. In some regions of Kenya candidates are chosen on rotational clan basis, a practice that exists to-date. This is generally a peaceful process where clan elders agree on which candidates will represent the regions in the elections and how they shall rotate between the clans.

Once the choices are made, the candidates go to elections and are voted in without much competition as the representatives of the people. Generally, political parties have patrons/owners who decide to whom direct nomination tickets are deserved.

 These decisions are based on opinion polls, intelligence and consultations with elders, opinion leaders, church leaders and other local leaders. Although political parties are no longer registered as societies, they operate pretty much as such.

Today, nominations are conducted through another form of negotiated democracy. Competing candidates from the same political party are asked to agree amongst themselves and to support each other. Others are persuaded to forgo their ambitions as they are promised ministerial or other appointments after elections. Political parties also decide who they wish to run for governor and other seats and with whom they get paired.

The others are “persuaded” to support “the chosen” in the campaign to ensure they win the elections on promise for rewards after victory. Although these “sacrificial” candidates have spent millions of shillings already in campaigns, they bow out and grudgingly support the chosen. This is done mostly because party primaries are unfortunately sabotaged by opponents.

They are conducted in very few areas. They are also very expensive and not necessarily democratic anyway. This is why negotiated democracy is the emerging brand of democracy being embraced nationally.

Previously, the presidential candidates chose their running mates without much scuffling. Now, this is negotiated through serious processes of compromises and weighting based on a criteria to ensure victory. Independent candidates are not original. They are those that disagree with their parties, are asked to sacrifice their ambition and don’t want or fail to get party nominations.