Kenya: What’s next for Nasa, the opposition alliance, after its break-up?

By Jeff Otieno

Posted on Thursday, 12 August 2021 12:26
Raila Odinga of the former National Super Alliance (NASA) at the Milimani Court in Nairobi, Kenya, March 29, 2018. REUTERS/Baz Ratner

Since the boycott of Kenya’s repeated 2017 presidential election, the National Super Alliance (Nasa) has been dogged by unending wrangles - ranging from policy differences to sharing of resources - leading to its collapse. Ahead of next year’s polls, can they unite and form the ‘tsunami’ force they once promised?

On one sunny afternoon in January 2017, five opposition leaders stood at the podium inside a packed cultural center in Nairobi to launch Nasa, a coalition party that would take on the ruling Jubilee in the general election, only six months away.

Holding hands and smiling at the cameras, party leaders of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM); Amani National Congress (ANC); Wiper Party of Kenya (WPK); Forum for the Restoration of Democracy Kenya party (FORD-Kenya); and Chama Cha Mashinani (CCM) assured voters that they would stay united and lead Kenyans to ‘Canaan, the land of milk and honey’.

“Pray for us to solidify, to be one, to be united and we shall win,” Musalia Mudavadi, the ANC party leader, said during the launch.

Nasa collapses

However, like previous coalitions – National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), Party of National Unity (PNU), and Coalition for Reform and Democracy (Cord) – that were formed close to the general election, Nasa failed to outlive Kenya’s five-year election cycle.

Like tenants fleeing a collapsing building, the top decision-making organs of Nasa’s founding members rushed to ratify the coalition, which they likened to a tsunami that would sweep bad leaders out of power.

So, what led to the collapse of the once vibrant coalition viewed by many as ‘the next government in waiting’?

Mock swearing-in ceremony

Cracks began to appear in January 2018 when Raila Odinga (the ODM party leader) was controversially sworn in as the ‘people’s president’. During the ceremony at Nairobi’s Uhuru Park, the other four Nasa leaders were conspicuously absent; and ODM officials have never forgiven them for throwing Raila under the bus.

“The mistrust started when we were swearing in Baba (Raila Odinga). You believe that you have four soldiers but when you look behind none of them is there,” says Edwin Sifuna, ODM’s secretary-general.

However, coalition partners such as Wiper Party leader Kalonzo Musyoka defended themselves saying they could not attend an event that bordered on treason as they are leaders of integrity, committed to upholding the rule of law.

“I am senior counsel, and that is the highest rank an advocate aspires [to]. How would I have participated in an illegal, unconstitutional oath? I would have disqualified myself because lawyers swear to uphold constitutionalism,” Kalonzo said in May this year.

Failure to attend the swearing-in ceremony was not the only ‘sin’ that ODM accused its coalition partners of. In November 2019, mistrust within the coalition was further exacerbated when the same four who had skipped Raila’s swearing-in fielded their own candidates for the by-election in Kibra constituency – an ODM bastion.

This decision split the coalition’s votes and enabled the Jubilee candidate, allied to Deputy President William Ruto, to register a strong performance. Though the ODM candidate won the mini-poll, the party’s officials felt betrayed.

‘Big Brother’ attitude

ODM’s affiliates however argue that the Raila-led party is largely to blame for the collapse of the coalition. “Being in Nasa was like being in an abusive marriage where the husband beats you and denies you food,” ANC senator Cleophas Malala said after the party’s national executive committee ratified the decision to quit the coalition.

He says ODM’s ‘Big Brother’ attitude is to blame for the coalition’s collapse and accuses the party of grabbing even the little that was left for other partners to share. According to him, when “they ousted Moses Wetangula (Ford Kenya party leader) as the minority leader in the Senate and replaced him with a member of ODM and also removed me as the deputy minority leader”, it was time for other members to chart their own path.

Wetangula resurfaced much later, expressing his reservations about the truce between President Kenyatta and Raila, that culminated in the much-publicised handshake in March 2018. Other coalition leaders also expressed their disgust with Raila for failing to involve them in his decision to work with the president.

Kenya’s President Uhuru Kenyatta shakes hands with opposition leader Raila Odinga on 9 March 2018. (AP Photo/Brian Inganga, File)

FORD-Kenya deputy leader Richard Onyonka agrees that the handshake deal and Wetangula’s ouster as minority leader in the Senate were partly to blame for the collapse of Nasa. “There was absolutely no need for ODM to remove Wetangula as minority leader in the Senate, that was so painful. I travelled with Wetangula abroad to seek support for Nasa. [Kalonzo] Musyoka also did the same. Everybody put their energy in the coalition to win,” he said.

One Kenya Alliance

Wiper, FORD-Kenya, and Amani National Congress have since formed another coalition dubbed One Kenya Alliance (OKA), which they argue will not only take care of their interest but also enable them to seek new coalitions, based on trust.

“ODM has been a bully…mostly by top-ranking members of the party,” says Enock Wambua, the Wiper Party senator, adding that it was important for the disgruntled parties to abandon the coalition and form their own alliance.

Election promise

Raila is also accused of reneging on a promise he made prior to the 2017 general election: that he will not vie for the presidency in 2022 but instead support another coalition partner.

Though the ODM leader has insisted that the promise does not hold because Nasa did not win the presidency, his colleagues maintain that the deal was irrespective of the outcome of the 2017 presidential election.

It is a demonstration of the sloppy nature [of how] we handle our politics. Those coalitions are just special purpose vehicles for winning elections. They are not based on any ideology

Kalonzo and Mudavadi have vowed to vie for the top seat, come rain or sunshine. “It is unthinkable that one Stephen Kalonzo Musyoka will support Raila Odinga for the third time. I would rather go to Tseikuru [native home] because that is an option,” Musyoka told Nation Television (NTV). 

“I would be the most stupid fellow on earth to go and support a presidential candidate, the third time, without a measure of reciprocity. At 60-something if I don’t run for the presidency now, when do you expect me to vie?” said Musyoka.

ANC members of parliament have also said their leader will not play second fiddle to Raila this time round. “ODM knows very well that in the Nasa agreement, [Raila] was supposed to vie for one term in 2017 whether Nasa won or not. It is time for Musalia Mudavadi to vie for the presidency,” ANC deputy party leader Ayub Savula tells The Africa Report.

“We welcome him to [the] One Kenya Alliance but he should come as an equal partner. He is not senior to anyone, but the principal remains he will not be our presidential candidate in One Kenya Alliance,” Savula says.

Wiper member of parliament Daniel Maanzo shares similar sentiments. “We [Wiper Party] have supported Raila Odinga for 10 years. This time we are asking them that the presidential candidate be Kalonzo Musyoka.”

To prove it is ready to move on without Raila, OKA has set up a 12-member technical committee to spearhead coalition talks and establish a suitable formula to pick its presidential candidate.

Political Parties Fund

Sharing the Political Parties Fund was also another thorny issue in the coalition. Sustained pressure from its allies forced ODM to cede ground and announce it will share part of the funds received from the public coffers with its former partners, a move that was viewed as a last-minute attempt to assuage the messy divorce.

Initially, ODM had insisted it owes its partners nothing, arguing that the money allocated was based on the votes its candidates got in the parliamentary, senatorial, gubernatorial, and civic elections in the last general polls.

Wiper, ANC, and FORD-Kenya had threatened to sue ODM if it did not share the funds. According to the Political Parties Act, parties are required to have at least 3% of the total votes at the preceding general elections to qualify for funding; a mammoth task that was only achieved by Jubilee and ODM.

Other coalition partners, ODM said, would have been entitled to a share if the presidential votes in the annulled exercise were included, where President Kenyatta garnered 8,223,369 votes (54%) while Raila got 6,822,812 (44%). In calculating the money to be shared between Jubilee and ODM, the presidential votes were however excluded by the Registrar of Political Parties since a repeat election was held – as was ordered by the Supreme Court.

What informs formation of coalitions in Kenya is pursuit for power, unfortunately without an agenda.

However, after a series of meetings between Raila and Musyoka, ODM agreed to share with its former partners more than KSh300m ($2.7m) attributable to its parliamentary votes, but excluding those of presidential, gubernatorial, and county assembly for financial years 2017-2018, 2018-2019 and 2019-2020.

It was a climbdown by other partners who had earlier demanded that ODM shares equally all the money owed to the party by the Registrar of Political Parties for three financial years.

The payment made by ODM, according to the secretary-general, was out of good faith and due to long standing relations that the party had with its former coalition partners. “This settlement has been reached without prejudice because they deserve nothing if we strictly go by the agreement. In fact, what we are sharing is the ODM share of the fund, not their entitlement,” Sifuna says.

ODM has since welcomed the dissolution of Nasa, saying this presents an opportunity to seek new alliances. However, the party has not ruled out working with its former coalition partners once again. “I believe we will meet in [the] future. We are very happy as ODM to have an opportunity to renegotiate this deal. The former agreement was like the Treaty of Versailles…”  says Sifuna.

Collective consciousness

Many Kenyans are not surprised by the collapse of Nasa because every election season brings forth new alliances with catchy acronyms, and a fresh promise of change. The leaders behind the coalitions, however, remain the same. As the saying goes: different forest, same monkeys.

“It is a demonstration of the sloppy nature we handle our politics. Those coalitions are just special purpose vehicles for winning elections. They are not based on any ideology,” Gitile Naituli, a former commissioner at the National Commission and Integration Commission (NCIC), told the Kenya National Television Network (KTN).

According to him, Kenya’s political arena (which is predominantly ethnic-based) is not centred on ideologies. “What informs [the] formation of coalitions in Kenya is [the] pursuit for power, unfortunately without an agenda,” he said. “If you have an agenda, that should make you stick together; however, the fact that they are unable [to stick together] after losing or winning an election means their main goal is to seek power and not to deliver to Kenyans.”

However, Naituli is hopeful that the untidy politics bedevilling the country will eventually change. “There is something called collective consciousness in a society and when it rises and leaves the leaders behind, new ones emerge and occupy the positions of those who refuse to rise up with the population,” he said.

To him, a government mirrors the people who elect it.

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