Unity governments create some space for economic recovery, but
political problems go unresolved as security forces and conservative
political groups conspire to maintain the status quo.
Read why conflict and security expert Funmi Olonisakin thinks these elite bargains to not change our lives.
The report card for power sharing in Kenya and Zimbabwe is extremely mixed. Political temperatures were lowered when unity governments were formed between competing parties after heavily-disputed elections. However, the resulting coalitions in Nairobi and Harare have yet to reach agreement on key political and economic reforms.
In Kenya, the power-sharing deal between Mwai Kibaki’s Party of National Unity (PNU) and Raila Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) helped end the political fight that killed over 1,000 people and chased some 300,000 people from their homes in the wake of the December 2007 elections.
The new constitution presents the most significant assault on
executive power since independence. Presidential powers are curtailed
and future presidents will no longer make unilateral appointments.
Devolutionary clauses will ensure that Treasury disburses a sizeable
amount to regions.
Insecurity The security infrastructure is controlled by the PNU faction
of the ruling coalition. It has many questions to answer espe- cially
regarding its conduct during the last elections. A shake-up of its
senior ranks is urgently required to pave way for independent investigations. As crime rises, the
ability of security forces to behave independently of an ethnic agenda
will go a long way in dealing with it.
Judiciary Stung by recent public criticism, there are signs that the
judiciary has begun acting independently. A series of electoral
petitions has seen powerful incumbents losing their seats. More of this
would help curtail bad political behaviour.
The coalition government has launched investigations into electoral manipulation, run a census and failed to reach agreement on how to tackle the election violence, but an uneasy peace holds. The return of stability, helped by the commitment of Kenya’s business class, has boosted investor confidence. This has in turn supported a gradual economic recovery that promises to ease the pain of ordinary Kenyans. The government predicts that economic growth will rebound to pre-violence levels over the next two years.
In Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) government was pressed to allow the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) opposition to take the posts of prime minister and finance minister in a bid to negotiate international financial assistance. That gave the MDC ministers some real power: Finance Minister Tendai Biti suspended the Zimbabwe dollar, banishing hyperinflation and cutting out a big source of ZANU-PF patronage. The International Monetary Fund has praised the progress so far, but international support falls far short of the government’s expectations.
More widely, the power-sharing deals have done little to rein in the powers of Presidents Kibaki and Mugabe, who have blocked reform of the institutions on which their hegemony depends, notably the security forces and the constitution. The militarisation of ZANU-PF has strengthened hardliners in the military and intelligence services who block reform of the security sector as ‘unpatriotic’ and ‘Western-imposed’. Meanwhile, officers who support ZANU-PF continue to attack MDC activists and MPs. The military hierarchy also has its own sources of funds through the control of economic assets such as the Chiadzwa diamond fields.
In Kenya, Kibaki’s faction has been able to use the cover of the unity government to recruit an anti-reform alliance of individuals from other parties, including Odinga’s ODM, all of whom want to prevent prosecutions of human-rights abusers and corrupt officials. The International Criminal Court’s (ICC) opening of investigations and its intention to prosecute those most responsible for the post-election violence is concentrating minds in the political elite.
A mutual insurance pact is operating among politicians who want to avoid prosecution, and they lend each other support on crucial parliamentary votes. The same groups have diluted proposals for reform. The constitutional draft that will go before the country in a referendum will not greatly reduce the powers of the president, nor does it include the post of prime minister, currently occupied by the ODM’s Odinga.
This alliance has weakened Odinga, who has lost much influence over his party. Kibaki is stonewalling on reform of the security forces that helped the PNU to cling to power after the 2007 polls. Shadowy operatives close to the police and army are harassing and murdering potential witnesses in the ICC investigation. After a damning report by a UN special investigator into the activities of the Kenyan police in early 2009, two human-rights activists working on the same case were assassinated in broad daylight on the streets of Nairobi.
The dividing line between police, militias and criminals is blurring and could spark future unrest. The focus of the anti-reform alliance on maintaining power at all costs means that the emergence of this shadow state is not only going unchecked, but may be encouraged by the public stances adopted by senior political figures.
The ICC has no jurisdiction in Zimbabwe because the government has not ratified the Rome Statute which set up the court. The 2008 violence in Zimbabwe was almost exclusively perpetrated by a single side, ZANU-PF and its military allies, leaving the MDC with a monopoly on the mantle of victimhood.
Government appointments: ZANU-PF has appointed all 10 provincial governors but the MDC factions have the right to appoint five governors under the power-sharing deal. The MDC also demands a vote on the choice of Attorney-General and Bank Governor.?
Political reforms: Four main areas of reform are being debated ahead of the next national elections: a new constitution; an independent electoral commission; a human rights commission; and a media commission. For the MDC, without these there can be no free elections.??
Security reforms: the MDC has called for the depoliticisation of the intelligence services and armed forces. In theory, the National Security Council on which both parties are represented is the top policy-making body; in practice, senior officers and ZANU-PF officials work independently in the Joint Operations Command.
ZANU-PF Defence Minister Emmerson Mnangagwa has been forced to defend the military’s activities in parliament because MDC MPs have raised the matter of violence during the 2008 elections. Both the ZANU-PF politicians, who walked out of the assembly in protest, and the country’s generals know they would face prosecution should the MDC gain the upper hand in future elections. This has made them intransigent.They work hard to obstruct and subvert reform of the security sector and the constitution in the hope of increasing ZANU-PF’s chances of success in elections that are planned for 2011.
In 2008, international actors welcomed the signing of power-sharing ?accords in Kenya and Zimbabwe, which they hoped would pave the way for more durable democratic consolidation. The use of power sharing to resolve electoral crises represented the use of a strategy commonly deployed to bring civil wars to an end.
With talk of a power-sharing approach to Uganda’s 2011 elections, there are important lessons emerging from the Kenyan and Zimbabwean experience. Current power-sharing practices give little hope for genuine reform. Unity governments leave power in the hands of autocrats and tend to paper over, rather than resolve, fundamental political disagreements. At best they may be a station on the way to real change.
This article was first published in the June-July edition of The Africa Report.
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