After the hotly contested presidential elections of 2022, there are calls from the Azimio la Umoja coalition and other non-state actors for dialogue, ostensibly to bring the country “together” after an election that divided it right down the middle.
While calls for dialogue of whichever nature are welcome in the sense that such dialogue would promote political tolerance and help bring political stability, post-election handshakes in the long-run weaken institutions, especially the opposition, which is meant to keep the government in check. The opposition should not join government; they are a government in waiting.
In this regard, demonstrations and picketing by the opposition should target specific issues, which must be permissible within the law and constitution.
Although the opposition is within its right to criticise the government of the day through whichever means, it must accept that the government of the day got the mandate of majority of Kenyans to constitutionally govern.
Although there were gaps in the IEBC that may need fixing for better electoral management in the future, the issues raised by the opposition were canvased by the Supreme Court and found not weighty enough to overturn the presidential election results of 2022.
Notably, Kenya’s nullified presidential results of 2017 were the first ever on the African continent and the fifth globally, pointing to the maturity and strength of our judiciary.
Calls by the opposition that the “illegitimate president must go” are therefore extrajudicial, and could easily pass as an attempt at unconstitutional change of government.
While some could argue that citizens have a right to a revolution in democracies, this only happens when protests are citizen-driven and with a broad citizen consensus.
It is also evident that even revolutions like the Arab Spring that led to the toppling of the governments of Tunisia, Libya, Egypt, Yemen, Syria and Bahrain in the early 2010s may have left most of these states worse off.
While calls for revolution may seem glorious, the reality of statelessness post-revolution, and the difficulty of bringing back states to constitutional order are long and torturous. It is therefore always better to pursue minimum reforms as they are likely to be successful and fruitful, and they do not destabilise the state.
The opposition can therefore only propose alternative policies they would have adopted should they have formed government so as to challenge the existing government to perform or risk being voted out by the electorate.
Otherwise, demands that have no legal and constitutional basis only risk plunging Kenya into unnecessary political crisis, and may push the country further into an economic recession and high cost of living.
While proponents of handshakes have argued that it worked during the second term of presidents Kibaki and Uhuru, there are reasons this may not be tenable after the 2022 presidential election.
First, unlike the 2007 elections that were generally perceived as not fair and transparent locally and internationally, the 2022 elections received a clean bill of health, weaknesses notwithstanding.
The fact that the opposition in 2007-2008 did not challenge the presidential results in court points to the weak judiciary at the time, which was generally an appendage of the Executive.
Secondly, unlike 2017 when the opposition boycotted the repeat presidential elections, hence damaging its legitimacy, the opposition participated fully in the 2022 presidential election. It is therefore difficult to discredit the outcome of such an election.
Third, the current regime has barely settled down in office, and it is too early to accuse it of failing to reduce the cost of living or spur economic growth as they promised in their manifesto. It is therefore not yet convincing to accuse a new regime of failure to fulfill its promises.
The opposition is therefore better advised not to join government and instead offer alternative policies and use the weaknesses of the current regime to offer an alternative manifesto to the electorate in 2027.
By joining the government in whichever way, including the handshake, they risk being blamed together with the government of the day.
Indeed, one could argue that it is the March 2018 Handshake between former President Uhuru and Raila Odinga that weakened Raila’s candidature in the 2022 presidential election because he was blamed for the failures of Uhuru’s regime even though he was not actually in government.
The opposition should be strategising how to unseat the current regime at the ballot in 2027, and they could easily start driving a counter-narrative against the government using its blunders, like the recent appointment of 50 Cabinet Administrative Secretaries, which is clearly bloated, and against austerity measures supposedly advocated for by the same government.