On March 9, 2018, at the doors of Harambee House, President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga shook hands to signal a political truce.
The two sons of Kenya’s Independence leaders hinted at working together for the good of Kenya. The handshake event received applause and criticism in equal measure. To some, it represented a new dawn and to others a trip down the dark past. Two and a half years later, Kenyans are still struggling to understand whether the deal created a vacuum in Kenya’s governance structure.
In my view, those who have relentlessly called out and argued that the Odinga-led pact killed the opposition are wrong and they intend to take us to the dark past.
First, with the enactment of the 2010 Constitution, Kenyans created a position in Parliament known as the Leader of Minority. This was informed by the previous usage of the term “opposition” to sideline certain parts of the country perceived as opposition’s strongholds. Previously, those within the ruling party, the civil service and state office would rely on the term “opposition” to claim defiance and instil inequality in allocation of public resources.
Second, the three arms of government are meant to check the other. After the 2013 elections, members of the ruling party from both the National Assembly and the Senate arrogantly and continuously asserted that they were the government. This was rightly so as the government belongs to every Kenyan.
But Parliament collectively failed Kenyans. More often than not, Kenyans relied on civil societies, activists and individual political party leaders to check on the excesses of the Executive. Elected leaders, paid using public money must learn to do their work.
Third, the illusionary position of “opposition” in Kenya’s politics is not a preserve of an individual political player. Any political party or politician can assume such role and check on the government. The recent calls by certain spheres for Raila to relinquish his post as an opposition leader are thus misinformed. Nobody initiated him as an opposition leader. Raila – just like any private citizen – has the right to his opinions and to choose a political side.
Opposition is not a preserve of certain individuals or communities, do not force it down their throats.