Alliances or no alliances: That is the question

By Augustine Chingwala Musopole* PhD

Since the Constitutional Court’s verdict, there has been a rush to form alliances with a view to increasing the chance of getting 50+1 in the next election in spite of the government appealing the verdict. It seems that within the uncertainties of their appeal, the government part is preparing for the re-run just in case the Supreme Court upholds the verdict.

However, in this article my concern is with the wisdom of political alliances. Should they be made before or after the elections? What are the advantages and disadvantages on both counts for the parties, but more so for the nation?

I will use Kenya as an example where alliances have been formed before the elections, and then draw lessons for Malawi. Since the introduction of multi-party dispensation in Kenya alliances have been the political mode of operation.

In 1990 Kenneth Matiba, Charles Rubia and Raila Odinga started to agitate for multi-partism in Kenya and suffered for it. The one legal party was that of Kenya African National Union (KANU) led by President Daniel Arap Moi who succeeded Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in 1978. The one-party-rule came to an end in 1991 with the repeal of section 2 of the one-party constitution. The Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was formed to push for greater freedoms, The Daily Nation reports.

Supporters of democracy saw Ford as the outfit to remove Kanu from power and consign years of political dictatorship to the dustbin of history. It was not to be because of two factors. First, the Ford leaders were in a hurry to get power and forgot to initiate further constitutional and institutional reforms that could have allowed a level playing field. Secondly, internal squabbles brought about by personal and ethnic scramble for power. In August 1992, Ford split into two factions — Ford-Asili, led by Kenneth Matiba, and Ford-Kenya, led by Oginga Odinga. (

Opposition leaders in Kenya

Vice President Mwai Kibaki formed his own political party called the Democratic Party adding further to the fragmentation. However, in the elections that followed in 1992 KANU was declared winner and Moi retained the Presidency and so too in the elections of 1997.

Such consecutive wins (which might have been rigged) forced the opposition parties to go for alliances with a view to wrestling power from KANU. In the meanwhile constitutional changes allowed Moi only two terms. Therefore in 2002 KANU presented Uhuru Kenyatta as its presidential candidate. Moi was finally replaced by Mwai Kibaki as President in 2002 after ruling Kenya for 24 years and defeating Uhuru Kenyatta who represented KANU.

Multi-partism brought about the need for alliances within Parliament. The other parties that had contested following the repeal of the one-party constitution were FORD-Kenya that became the main opposition while the National Democratic Party (NDP) went into a working alliance with KANU, however, a year later a splinter group from the alliance formed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).

The opposition parties coalesced into an umbrella group called National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) under Kibaki which then ruled the country with KANU and FORD-People in opposition. Within two years, LDP formed a new alliance with KANU thus forming a formidable opposition to NARC administration. FORD-people led by Simeon Nyachae left the opposition and joined NARC administration thus forming a Government of National Unity (GNU). During the constitutional referendum KANU, LDP, and other parties formed the Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K).

Some KANU members being disgruntled with ODM-K broke rank and formed the Party of National Unity (PNU). Another ODM faction formed the ODM Party under the leadership of Raila Odinga, Balala, Ruto, and Mudavadi and it became the main opposition. The political chaos created by alliances of convenience becomes obvious.

Stephen Kajirwa Kaverenge, in his doctoral dissertation, has observed, the opposition parties are in power not because they garnered significantly more votes than they commanded in the preceding two general elections but rather because they were able to align their disparate votes into one basket. Conversely, they would still have won in the preceding two general elections had they been in an alliance.

The failure of a proper alliance in place of an alliance of convenience is attributable to the following factors: (1) parties remained firmly in the grip of their respective leaders; (2) their unity revolved around a contentious memorandum of understanding which was unknown to party members; (3) the parties remained hazily defined in terms of source of funding, financial control, internal governance, and policy formulation; (4) the parties were not mass parties, but rather ethnic-based parties; (5) the parties were more interested in accessing state power than in presenting a unified ideology or policy.

Since the 2007 election debacle leading to the second Government of National Unity brokered by Kofi Annan, political parties have aligned themselves to bigger blocks under Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)which was later part of and the National Super Alliance (NASA) on the one hand and Jubilee on the other. Jubilee was a coalition of many smaller parties under the leadership of Uhuru Kenyatta with William Ruto as running mate.

The NASA coalition was under the five principals, namely, Raila Odinga of ODM, Luo based; Musalia Mudavadi of Amani Party, Luhya based; Kalonzo Musyoka of Wiper Party, being Kamba based; and Wetangula of Ford-Kenya, Also Luhyah based. Raila Odinga was acknowledged as the torch bearer of National Super Alliance (NASA). The 2018 elections were annulled on account of what were called “illegalities and irregularities” by a judgment of 4 to 2.

There was much political tension following the annulment from both sides. Raila went ahead and was sworn in at Uhuru Park as the people’s President and planned to form a parallel administration through a people convention. The economy almost came to a standstill. Various regions started to consider separating themselves from Central Kenya which was seen as Uhuru Kenyatta’s base.

Western Kenya wanted to go it alone, the Pwani region along the Indian ocean revived its discourse on independence. The tension was relieved by the unexpected handshake between Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga. It was only after the handshake that Uhuru Kenyatta completed appointing his cabinet.

The handshake resulted in the formation of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) which is still ongoing after the first phase was accomplished. The second phase has to do with listening to people’s reaction to the first phase report. Now, what can Malawi learn from all this?

While KANU is still around as a political party with Gideon Moi as its leader, it is a pale shadow of itself. Uhuru Kenyatta who was at one time at its helm abandoned it and formed his own party which was also absorbed into the current Jubilee Party which is now facing strong headwinds going into 2024 elections. Election debates are a pass-time activity of Kenyan politics and media. They are already talking of 2034 elections. This is the case because the motivation is wresting power from the incumbent, hence many leaders have no national vision since they spend time castigating the incumbent for perceived failures. This tantamounts to political narrow mindedness.

The second point to note is that most in political leadership represent political dynasties, that is, either their parents were political leaders before them and have a taste of political power which they seek for their personal interest riding on the fame of their progenitors. Since they have a very narrow political vision, they tend to be fractious, always looking where the bread is battered, hence the entering into alliances for their convenience.
Thirdly, the leadership is always afraid to move from their ethnic base and their ambitions are tied to their ethnic share of political power. Their parties are never national in orientation. The challenge is how to transcend ethnic-bound politics and look at the nation as whole and the interests of the nation that includes all ethnicities.

Uhuru Kenyatta is identified with the Kikuyu, Raila Odinga with the Luos; Kalonzo Musyoka with the Akamba; Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula with the Luhya; while William Ruto and Gideon Moi are associated with the Kalenjin. Of course there are other smaller tribes too.

Alliances that are made to simply get rid of the incumbent tend to be short-lived and myopic in their vision since they spend their time thinking about how to divide the cake among themselves instead of serving the needs of the nation. When alliances are made after the election the concern is on ideas that can propel the nation forward.

It might take time to form a government, but often it is on solid ground that such a government gets established unless ideological differences are deep and cannot be easily overcome, for instance in Italy. Elections are one thing in a multiparty democracy and forming a viable government might be another challenge.

*Dr Musopole
contributes to The Lamp