Power-sharing regimes: Who wants them?

FIRST it was Kenya, then Zimbabwe. Now, it is Madagascar’s turn on the road to the demise of, and conspiracy against, democracy in Africa. Surprisingly, African politicians – more of rulers than leaders – are the conspirators plunging the continent in utter chaos by denying winners and losers their due.

In ordinary democracy, especially when it comes to elections, we expect to have winners and losers; the ruling party and the opposition. And no politician or political party, however popular, can enjoy support of all citizens. Above all, a healthy democracy gives room to opposition and challenge.

But a trend is emerging in African politics with incumbent presidents losing elections, yet clinging to power by all means and calling for power-sharing schemes with the opposition; and in so doing denying voters their only chance of making changes through a ballot box; and once more frustrating any reforms that would have come with a peaceful change of regime.

Kenyans and Zimbabweans did not get what they voted for in their last general elections. And they are still enduring the same misery they wanted to get rid of when they were chanting ‘change, change’ during campaign.

Of course, ultimately, the only change made possible was the opposition being part of the government in a coalition meant to immediately avert further bloodshed, deaths and displacements; and, in the long-run, to push a reform agenda within the government of national unity in Kenya.

But what has become of it after a year or so, is what critics refer to as a government of national impunity! And it took US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, during her recent visit to Kenya, to bring to the attention of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga the frustration of the Obama administration at  their failure to show Kenyans and the world that reforms were taking shape.

Among other things, she particularly wanted them to save their country from impunity by acting on an extra judicial killings report by Prof Phillip Alston, calling for the sacking of Police Commissioner Hussein Ali and Attorney General Amos Wako.

In Zimbabwe, the displacement of people started even before the elections, and has gone on even now with the coalition government in place, and President Robert Mugabe (leader of ZANU-PF) enjoying ‘more executive powers’ than his ‘equal’ partner, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) leader Morgan Tsvangirai.

Much as I admire Odinga and Tsvangirai’s unwavering commitment to democratic activism in their respective countries and the inspiration they have given to the majority of citizens in the quest for change and reform, I am not amazed at the fact that they have failed to change their presidents from executive strong men to equal partners in their coalition governments. And this has led to another setback. No change of system to replace their strong men with strong systems, as put by US President Barack Obama.

And without equal executive powers between the president and the prime minister, no change is going to happen in these countries because the former stand for the status quo – and unfortunately, they have a final say in big matters, regardless of what the power-sharing accord says in print. To the disadvantage of Odinga and Tsvangirai, a section of population that used to follow them instinctively is beginning to see them differently. Not offering solutions, they are becoming part of the problem.

With the Kibaki-Odinga administration failing to deal squarely with impunity and do reforms, while Mugabe’s ZANU-PF thugs still terrorise opposition supporters and refuse settlement to displaced villagers who had fled the post-election violence that preceded the power-sharing government, it would not be unfair to say these coalition governments have served short-term purposes of quelling down violence, averting killings and further displacement to a certain extent; but they have failed to implement a bigger agenda as spelt out in election manifestoes and in the power-sharing accords.

Surprisingly, though, other African countries are on the queue for coalitions. In Madagascar, political leaders of opposing parties are considering a political accord for a transitional government – probably towards a power-sharing regime in the style of Kenya and Zimbabwe.  

Although, the Malagasy scenario is different – emanating from a military-backed civilian coup – the likelihood is, it will all go the Kenya or Zimbabwe way, which is, so far, not worth emulating for two reasons. It kills the opposition and makes an inefficient government in the style of a self-divided kingdom; hence stalling any efforts for meaningful reforms. And just recently, the transparency corruption index for East African issues recently said it was getting difficult to fix corruption with the divided government in power.

But as long as incumbents lose and cling to power, the only means they have to appease angry voters and the international community is calling for power-sharing agreements to legitimize their rigging, to weaken opposition, to perpetuate corruption and further stifle democracy.


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