Is the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) or, the Coalition of Reforms and Democracy (CORD) of Raila Odinga, playing its rightful role as an effective Opposition in and out of Parliament?
In advanced democracies all over the world, the Opposition is supposed to scrutinize the work of the Government in a responsible and constructive way.
Canada’s definition is that the Opposition is supposed “to oppose the Government by criticizing Government policies, suggesting alternatives and keeping the public informed about issues relating to Government administration.” The key words here are suggesting alternatives.
Kenya, as a member of the Commonwealth, adheres to many of the democratic practices and traditions of its older partners in the family of nations.
However, until the one-party system of Government ended in December 1991, there was no official opposition in the country for a long period of our history.
And although Jaramogi Oginga Odinga is recognized as the “doyen of opposition” due to his activism during the authoritarian days of Jomo Kenyatta and Daniel Arap Moi, it was Mwai Kibaki and his Democratic Party who embodied the true meaning of Official Opposition in Parliament after his second presidential defeat in 1997.
In 1998, he formed a Shadow Cabinet – in line with the Westminster traditions – to keep Moi’s Government in check. Kibaki appointed Shadow Ministers to correspond with Government Ministers and tasked them to advise him on matters in their dockets and to develop alternative policies to await an opportunity to govern.
That practice continued even after Kibaki became President in 2003. Six months after losing the presidential polls to the NARC leader, Uhuru Kenyatta, at that time KANU Chairman, appointed his Shadow Cabinet in Parliament with a declaration that “we are not going to oppose for the sake of opposing but we are here to offer Kenyans an alternative on how their country should be run.”
He chose Bonaya Godana, a former Minister as his deputy, and picked some of KANU’s most prominent diehards as Shadow Ministers. His role in the opposition technically ended in 2007 when he dropped out of the presidential race to support Kibaki’s presidential bid.
It was assumed that after losing to Kibaki in 2007, Raila Odinga would put in place a Shadow Cabinet to hold the Government to account. That did not happen. Instead, and after much violence and bickering over the election results, ODM joyfully joined the winner to form a Government of National Unity. For five years, therefore, Kenya did not have an Official Opposition.
Come 2013 and there was another ODM loss.
One year down the line, CORD – the Coalition that brings together ODM, the Wiper Democratic Party and Ford Kenya – has not yet mastered the confidence to form a Shadow Cabinet. An attempt to cobble one last September failed to materialize because of leadership wrangles in the Coalition’s parliamentary group.
In Strasbourg, Germany, in 2010, the European Commission for Democracy Through Law, declared that an effective opposition is an “essential part of a well-functioning democracy”. The absence of a strong Opposition and a Shadow Cabinet in Kenya is, therefore, bad for good governance.
Although ODM boasts of keeping Uhuru’s Government on its toes, the truth is that a leadership fragmentation in Parliament has not provided a conducive environment to allow the Opposition play a more dynamic role as a Government watchdog.
Because of its weak and rudderless leadership in the National Assembly, CORD has been unable to engage the ruling class in a vigorous and coherent way. Outside Parliament, its reactions to Government deeds have been haphazard, too far between and uncoordinated. Too often, it is difficult to know who is speaking on behalf of the party and who is offering personal opinion on any given issue.
This brings me to ODM’s reaction to Uhuru’s State of the Union address a few days ago. Although the response was prompt and scathing, it would have been more effective if it had been issued under the umbrella of CORD instead of ODM. In the eyes of Kenyans, CORD not ODM, is the government-in-waiting, so to speak. It is unfortunate, for example, that the voice of Kalonzo Musyoka as leader of Wiper – the second largest group in the Coalition – has not been heard on many of the critical issues of the day.
Although in the party response the acting ODM leader, Senator Anyang Nyong’o blamed the Government for everything under the sun, he did not offer any alternatives to the challenges facing the country. A credible opposition does not just criticize; it proposes alternatives of what it thinks is the right way to go in dealing with national challenges.
Nyong’o should also have remembered that Raila Odinga was the Prime Minister of Kenya for five years before the Jubilee government came to power. Most of the issues ODM raised in its response were alive when the ODM leader was in government. He had an opportunity to correct them but he didn’t.
True, the level of insecurity in the country has gone up due to hyped terrorist activities in recent months but this menace has been with us for decades, so has corruption, poverty and tribalism among many of our problems. This government inherited them from previous Administrations and is striving studiously to deal with them.
To blame the one-year old Jubilee Government for inaction is a demonstration of dishonesty.
We all know that ODM has not yet recovered from the presidential loss of 2013 but unleashing feeble jabs at the Jubilee Government is not the way we expect the Opposition to behave.
My free advice to ODM is: criticize constructively and suggest alternative causes of action but don’t criticize for the sake of it. After all, the challenges facing our country need the collective effort of all Kenyans include the Opposition.
And that is my say.