AFTER being in power for 39 years, the Kenya African National Union (Kanu) was defeated in the 2002 elections after opposition parties formed the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), an electoral pact to rally behind one presidential candidate Mwai Kibaki.
By Elias Mambo
Kibaki defeated Daniel arap Moi’s preferred successor, Uhuru Kenyatta, ending almost four decades of rule by Kanu — a former liberation war movement.
The idea of an electoral pact among opposition political parties in Kenya was necessitated by the electoral experiences of 1992 and 1997. In 1992, Moi polled a paltry 36,6%, but still cruised to victory because the opposition had split the vote. The opposition had a combined vote of 63,4%.
In 1997, again Moi romped to victory after polling 40,4%, while the opposition again shared 59,6% of the total vote.
In both elections the opposition parties lost to Kanu even though it was evident that the former liberation movement had become unpopular. The opposition parties realised that a coalition could easily dislodge Kanu from power given its numbers in previous elections.
Zimbabwean opposition parties seem to be following in the footsteps of their Kenyan counterparts, after failing to defeat Zanu PF in polls since independence in 1980, except in 2008 when MDC-T won by one seat.
Kenya and Zimbabwe share a similar political history where the two nations were born out of a liberation struggle.
Kenya’s independence came after the Mau Mau led a liberation struggle against British colonialism, while Zimbabwe’s Zanu PF and Zapu also fought for independence from Britain.
After close to four decades under Zanu PF rule, opposition political parties are on the verge of forming a coalition to rally behind one presidential candidate, MDC-T leader Morgan Tsvangirai, in a watershed 2018 election.
The coalition comes in the backdrop of the opposition’s lack of appetite to unite in previous elections despite public demands and pressure.
Had Tsvangirai formed a coalition with Mavambo/Kusile/Dawn leader Simba Makoni ahead of the 2008 polls, the opposition could have easily defeated President Robert Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election.
Tsvangirai polled 47,9%, Mugabe (43,2%), Makoni (8,3%), while an independent candidate Langton Towungana polled 0,6%.
The opposition had a combined vote of 56,8% which would have been enough for a coalition candidate to win the presidential election outright, avoiding a run-off.
Tsvangirai has signed memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with National People’s Party (NPP) leader Joice Mujuru and the MDC’s Welshman Ncube to pave way for coalition negotiations.
Addressing journalists after signing the agreement with Mujuru, a former Zanu PF heavyweight who at one time was favourite to succeed Mugabe, Tsvangirai said his party would sign similar deals with other opposition parties.
“We have chosen this day to take the first step to bring all Zimbabweans under one roof so that we can work together to remove this unmitigated repression and misgovernance that pervades our lives,” he said.
“I am pleased to inform the nation that today we have signed a memorandum of understanding with Joice Mujuru of the NPP to establish a pre-election alliance en route to the establishment of a coalition government, which shall drive a comprehensive democratisation and transformation agenda. “This is just the beginning of the building blocks towards establishing a broad alliance to confront Zanu PF between now and the next election in 2018. Similar arrangements will be entered into with other political formations and we will inform you as it happens, as we have done today.”
Questions are being raised whether Zimbabwe has reached its Kenya moment. There are also questions as to whether the coalition would be able to defeat Zanu PF, considering the party’s use of state instruments, particularly the military, to remain in power.
Political analyst Vince Musewe said Zimbabwe has reached its “kairos moment” (God’s appointed time to act).
“There is no doubt that we have all now accepted that we need a different approach to our elections,” Musewe said. “A coalition is not the panacea, but a critical step to begin to create a different formula. After all, we all want the same thing and if we have unity of purpose and critical reforms we can certainly see the change we want to see in this lifetime.”
A united front against Zanu PF has its advantages insofar as avoiding splitting the vote is concerned. The 2008 experience in which an opposition coalition could have easily won the presidential elections has been a learning point.
In 2013, opposition parties expended a lot of energy fighting amongst themselves rather than uniting to fight for electoral reforms. Zanu PF won the disputed elections, but analysts believe the opposition made it easy for it to steal the vote by fighting each other while the rigging machinery was at play.
Analyst Rashweat Mukundu said while a coalition is a progressive idea, the opposition needs to push for electoral and security sector reforms so that the electoral victory can translate to a takeover of power.
“A coalition may get the numbers, but that is not equal to assuming power as we saw in 2008,” Mukundu said.
“The security sector is a key determinant of electoral outcomes in Zimbabwe. In Kenya, the military has no influence in electoral processes and outcomes yet in Zimbabwe the security sector is a stumbling block that opposition groups need to deal with before elections.”
Mukundu said the military factor is a key determinant in electoral victory because the army and other security forces have perennially campaigned for Zanu PF and Mugabe.
Although this has been happening since 1980, the military’s deployment on political campaigns intensified when Mugabe and Zanu PF began facing serious problems beginning 2000 following the emergence of the opposition MDC.
During the inclusive government era between 2009 and 2013 the need for security sector reforms loomed large, although Zanu PF vehemently resisted it until it won the controversial 2013 elections.
“Any coalition has also a big task of handling the military whose relationship with Zanu PF dates back to the liberation struggle,” Mukundu said.
Despite the need to deal with the repressive state apparatus, the coalition has a challenge in ensuring that it does not become what Mugabe calls “a pile of zeros”.