The Opposition plays an important role in a robust democracy. Besides, debating and raising the quality of parliamentary debates and legislation, we know that the Opposition is the chief auditor of government operations through its oversight role of scrutinising government policies, decisions and acts of omission or commission. It holds a government accountable for how it delivers public services and therefore promotes transparency.
Further, we know that the Opposition offers alternative policies and solutions to the government. As an arm of government, the Opposition has access to critical information that the public may not easily have access to. It uses such information to critique as well as offer perspectives to the government.
In addition, it is a global trend that the Opposition collects, analyses and voices legitimate concerns of the public. Above all, the Opposition ensures the government in power does not discriminate against both those who did not vote for it and minorities. The Opposition amplifies the grievances of the public in a way that the government is compelled to meaningfully respond.
Moreover, the Opposition, as it were, is the government in waiting. While it offers constructive perspectives and alternative policies to the government, it must not turn itself into a think-tank for a government that cannot carry out its mandate with quality decisions, policies and judgments. A good Opposition cannot help a struggling government buy time in office. It must not let the government lose focus with destructive, disruptive and diversionary programmes. A government must always be under check for that is why all functional democracies have an “Opposition” in and out of Parliament.
Having laid this ground, I do not see how our Opposition meets the threshold of its mandate. The problem, as I have argued before in this column, is more historical and there is no evidence we are about to embrace the Opposition as a very important governance support entity within the legal frameworks of a democracy.
In Kenya, we have never embraced the Opposition. Here, we have to separate reformists from elected leaders who ride on a political party wave. To be elected does not equate with being visionary. The factors for one to be elected in Kenya are many, most of which are responsible for some of the incompetent leaders we have had over the years. We also have to differentiate between negativity and criticism. On negativity, we have leaders in government and in Opposition who have a strong propensity towards unconstructive debate, policy or judgment. They still struggle to rise above common knowledge.
To help build a culture of a strong Opposition that voices the concerns of the public, the media, particularly news media needs a conversion. Many times, news media have a tendency to run for “who is there?” without putting the public interest before personalities. To promote accountability and transparency in government, the news media does a commendable job. However, for some strange reasons, the Opposition figures are known to the public. This is because, the news media, unconsciously, has fallen into the historical bastardising of the Opposition as if nothing good will ever come out of it.
News media should prime Opposition leaders, including the much-maligned Members of Parliament who normally have very constructive ideas and insights but because as a country we look down upon Opposition, their contribution never attracts much attention the same way Martin Shikuku of good memory would. By virtue of their mandate, the news media should find it within their editorial policies to consider the Opposition most precious, priceless and allies of great value since they converge on putting the government in check.
While the “Shareholders” treat the Opposition with scorn, only needing it to legitimise some resemblance of a democracy, the news media should create a culture of accountability and transparency in government service delivery by promoting the constitutionally mandated leaders in the Opposition to do their job efficiently.
Dr Mokua is the Executive Director of Loyola Centre for Media and Communication