COALITIONS have dominated Kenya’s political landscape where alliances between parties have played a significant role in defining the course of events and election outcomes in the east African nation for the past 15 years.
For instance, Kenya’s former Prime Minister and opposition politician, Raila Odinga, was the game changer in 2002 when he endorsed Mwai Kibaki as the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) presidential candidate ahead of the country’s general elections that year.
In preparation for the crunch elections, the then official opposition leader, Kibaki’s Democratic Party had coalesced with several other opposition parties to form the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) party.
Around the same time, a group of disgruntled Kenya African National Union (KANU) presidential aspirants had quit the ruling party in protest, after being overlooked by outgoing president Daniel Arap Moi, who had railroaded the nomination of Uhuru Kenyatta as the party’s presidential candidate.
The group hurriedly formed the Liberal Democratic Party (LDP).
NAK would soon combine with the LDP led by Odinga to form the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC).
On October 14, 2002, at a large opposition coalition rally in Uhuru Park, Nairobi, Kibaki was nominated NARC’s presidential candidate after Odinga, also a presidential hopeful, endorsed him with the famous “Kibaki Tosha” declaration — which many Kenyans believe changed the campaign in the then NARC candidate’s favour.
NARC went on to win a landslide victory against the ruling KANU, with Kibaki getting 62 percent of the votes against Kenyatta’s 31 percent.
Coalitions also dominated the political arena during the 2007 general elections in Kenya.
That year, the presidential elections were a two-horse race between incumbent Kibaki, now running on a Party of National Unity ticket, and Odinga who was now leading the Orange Democratic Movement, a new coalition of opposition parties after the two’s fallout in 2005.
But this time the opposition coalition narrowly lost the presidential election and Kibaki was declared the winner with 46 percent of the vote against Odinga’s 44 percent.
However, Odinga who disputed the results also claimed victory and civil unrest broke out resulting in the deaths of over 1 000 people and the displacement of up to 500 000 Kenyans.
The conflict was ended by the signing of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, which led to the formation of a Government of National Unity in 2008.
Odinga would lose another presidential election against Jubilee Alliance’s coalition candidate, Uhuru Kenyatta, in 2013.
The Jubilee Alliance is yet another multi-party coalition that was established to support the presidential election of Kenyatta and his running mate William Ruto.
The other formidable political alliance in the 2013 elections was the Coalition for Reform and Democracy (CORD), led by Odinga.
Uhuru and Ruto won 50,07 percent of votes cast, with rivals, Odinga and his running mate, Kalonzo Musyoka, of CORD garnering 43,7 percent.
Odinga has contested and lost three presidential elections in Kenya in 1997, 2007 and 2013 respectively — the last two as a coalition candidate.
In the last three presidential elections in Kenya, since 2002, coalitions have played a central role in defining the political trajectory of the east African country.
In recent months, talk of opposition parties in Zimbabwe forming a grand coalition to fight President Robert Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the 2018 general elections has been increasing.
The coalition prospects were given fresh impetus on August 13 when Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) leader, Morgan Tsvangirai, and former vice-president and Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) leader, Joice Mujuru, addressed a joint rally in the Midlands province.
What is clear so far is that there is consensus among opposition parties in Zimbabwe on the need to form a coalition to fight ZANU-PF in 2018.
The People’s Democratic Party (PDP) leader, Tendai Biti, recently called for a swift conclusion to the talks that would lead to the formation of a coalition, arguing that time was running out for the opposition parties to form the alliance.
Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formation leader, Welshman Ncube, has also underscored the urgent need for a coalition to fight President Mugabe.
“If we are to bring the misery of our people to an end in 2018 we must seek ways of building coalitions which exclude no one who, at the barest minimum is committed to seeing an end to ZANU-PF rule,” Ncube said recently.
But there seems to be no consensus on the structure or form of the grand coalition or who should lead it.
There also seems to be no agreement on who should convene the forum for the coalition talks.
So far three platforms have emerged, all of them claiming to be creating a forum for the formation of a coalition of political parties.
First to launch a platform for an alliance of opposition political parties was the MDC-T which, in December 2015, invited other opposition parties to sign a document dubbed the National Electoral Reforms Agenda (NERA) committing them to fighting for electoral reforms ahead of the 2018 general elections.
The parties that signed the NERA document included the MDC-T, ZANU Ndonga, Transform Zimbabwe and Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe, among others.
But other opposition parties including PDP, Lovemore Madhuku’s National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) and Dumiso Dabengwa’s ZAPU did not sign the document.
The absence of many political parties at the signing ceremony of the document was viewed by political observers as a sign of unrelenting fissures in the opposition ranks.
The launch of NERA was followed by the creation of another platform in May this year when five opposition political parties formed an alliance called the Coalition of Democrats (CODE) that they said would challenge ZANU-PF in the 2018 elections.
The parties were Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn (MKD) led by Simba Makoni, the Renewal Democrats of Zimbabwe (RDZ) led by Elton Mangoma, the Democratic Assembly for Restoration and Empowerment (DARE) and Zimbabweans United for Democracy (ZUNDE) and Ncube’s MDC.Other opposition parties such as the MDC-T, ZPF, PDP, NCA and ZAPU did not join the coalition saying they still needed to consult their members.
This was also interpreted by observers as yet another signal that there is no consensus among political parties on who should convene the coalition talks.
Another coalition initiative is the National Convergence Platform (NCP), which is expected to bring together all political parties and civic society groups.
The platform is being co-ordinated by retired Anglican Bishop Sebastian Bakare.
Bakare said the NCP would meet with a view to coming up with a decision that would “extricate Zimbabwe” from its current situation.
It remains to be seen which of these platforms will eventually deliver a formidable coalition to fight ZANU-PF in the 2018 polls.
Currently, the majority of parties appear to have coalesced around the MDC-T’s NERA initiative, which now has 15 opposition parties, while CODE has not gained any significant traction since its birth in May.
The NPC has been bogged down by funding challenges which has resulted in it failing to hold its convention.
Another problematic question for the proposed grand coalition regards who should lead the political alliance.
Biti’s PDP, Mangoma’s RDZ and the MDC led by Ncube have insisted that all parties should come to the coalition table as equal partners.
PDP, RDZ and MDC are splinters from the MDC-T led by Tsvangirai.
Ncube insists that “all those who profess to be our leaders with an interest in saving the nation from doom must come to the table of patriots at which all shall be equal”.
Biti, Ncube and Mangoma have previously accused Tsvangirai and the MDC-T of having a “big-brother” mentality and assuming that it is obvious that Tsvangirai should lead the grand coalition when it is formed.
Mangoma, who is a fierce critic of Tsvangirai, after being booted out of the MDC-T, says Tsvangirai has to get off his high horse for him to entertain any hopes of getting into the grand coalition.
“When it comes to MDC-T, we do not have a problem except with Tsvangirai because he wants to be the face of opposition politics. Until he dismounts from his high horse, I think there will always be a problem. I think we need to be clear on that,” said Mangoma.
On the other hand, Obert Gutu, MDC-T’s spokesperson, has in the past dismissed Biti, Ncube and Mangoma as “ political dwarfs” and declared the MDC-T as “the most popular party in the country”.
But there is consensus among political analysts that the MDC-T is the largest opposition political party in the country and any plans to exclude it from a grand coalition will spell doom for any alliance against ZANU-PF.
However, the entrance of former ruling ZANU-PF party stalwart and now ZPF leader, Mujuru, into Zimbabwe’s opposition ranks has further complicated the already complex grand coalition matrix.
Mujuru, a liberation war veteran, has been drawing huge crowds to her rallies and enjoys widespread support among the grassroots in the country’s rural provinces.
And last week, PDP announced it would not field a presidential candidate in the 2018 general elections pledging to back Mujuru.
The declaration by PDP that it will back Mujuru to lead a coalition against President Mugabe is likely to rattle the already fragile relations between prospective coalition partners with analysts viewing the pledge by PDP as a deliberate move calculated to put a wedge between Tsvangirai and the ZPF leader.
Mujuru’s ZPF is yet to hold its inaugural party congress or elect substantive leadership and its support has not yet been tested in a national election.
The MDC-T which is popular in urban areas and has widespread grassroots support across the country will most likely back its charismatic leader, Tsvangirai, to lead the grand coalition.
MDC-T strategists believe that Tsvangirai, who has in the past defeated President Mugabe and ZANU-PF in polls, is the best candidate to lead any opposition coalition.
Tsvangirai out-polled President Mugabe in the first round of presidential elections in 2008 before pulling out of an election run-off citing widespread political violence against his MDC-T supporters.
From the look of things, if the grand coalition is formed the contest for its leadership is likely to be a two-horse race between Tsvangirai and Mujuru.
Ibbo Mandaza, a respected academic, says it is the prerogative of the coalition partners to decide who should lead the alliance.
“Issues of who should lead them as president are best left for the coalition to decide, but there are two political giants in the proposed coalition, Morgan Tsvangirai and Joice Mujuru, and it is likely that one of them will lead the coalition,” Mandaza said.
There are three likely scenarios for Zimbabwe going into the harmonised elections in 2018.
The first scenario would see opposition parties failing to form a coalition because of deep-seated personal and ideological differences resulting in fragmented opposition parties participating in the elections as different players.
The PDP says it prefers a “hybrid or rainbow model” in which the various political parties would complement each other by bringing together their expertise and efforts to achieve democratic change, rather than forming a single party, while the MDC-T prefers a “big tent” approach where all parties will form one political party under a single leader.
The second scenario would see two or more opposition coalitions participating in the 2018 elections after failing to agree on the structure, form and leadership of a broader coalition.
Gutu has publicly hinted on the possibility of a coalition between MDC-T and ZPF and excluding other opposition parties while CODE partners have also indicated willingness to go it alone in the event that a grand coalition fails.
The third scenario would see opposition parties agreeing on a grand coalition and backing one presidential candidate against President Mugabe and ZANU-PF.
For most Zimbabweans, a formidable grand coalition against ZANU-PF would be led by Tsvangirai with Mujuru as his deputy while all other opposition parties also come on board.
Analysts say all three scenarios are highly likely depending on how the on-going talks on the possibility of a grand coalition will be handled by the political players concerned.
But there is no guarantee that a coalition against the ruling party would succeed.
Political coalitions in Kenya have succeeded or failed depending on how they have been formed and handled.
In the same vein, a grand coalition of opposition parties in Zimbabwe to fight President Mugabe and ZANU-PF in the crucial 2018 general elections will succeed or fail on the basis of how it would be structured and managed.
Will a grand coalition succeed against President Mugabe and ZANU-PF? Time will tell! -FingGaz