Deal promises peace as well as fresh challenges
Published on March 3, 2008, 12:00 am
By Alphayo Otieno
Since popular participation would have compromised the results at the power-sharing table, secrecy and summit diplomacy became the cardinal rules for the game.
To allow the architects maximum scope to midwife the deal that now cuts across social divisions, Kenyans remained deferential as a political elite met in secret. To guard social peace in a charged post-poll environment, anything that could fuel discontent among radicals within the warring factions had to be eliminated to avoid further polarisation.
The result? What would have been a delicacy of majority democracy has been transformed into a meal of elite democracy otherwise called consociationalism.
In a pure consociational democracy, elite co-operation takes the form of executive coalitions in which the leaders of all main social groups are represented. There is also proportional representation in assemblies; proportional allocation of offices and resources; autonomy for social groups in the spheres important to them, and a mutual veto for groups that see their vital interests at stake.
Perhaps this was meant to happen since there was no way we could make an omelette without breaking yhe egg. We will have peace but with fresh challenges. The model of consociational democracy that Kenya’s new power deal is anchored on may only reinforce social divisions instead of breaking them down.
At face value, Dr Kofi Annan and the Panel of Eminent African Persons have demarcated political turfs for both President Kibaki and Mr Raila Odinga. However, the risks underlying the power deal may be reflected in adoption of the adage that “good fences make good neighbours”.
At the elite level, consociational practices reward communal politicians, giving them incentives to continue to play the ethnic, religious, and linguistic card and hindering the emergence of cross-communal parties and a different kind of politics.
Will Kenya maintain the same quality of democracy that would have been provided by the masses in the face of this elitist version of democracy? Haven’t we robbed Paul to pay Peter by trading off democracy for peace? Will the elite power signatories wedded by Annan see their new positions as transitional stage that leads to (fuller, non-ethnic) democracy?
Let’s take a sojourn down memory lane and review power sharing arrangements that failed to erase tensions and promote cross-ethnic politics. History is replete with evidence of elitist power sharing models remaining still-born in a background of weaker governance institutions.
Case studies reveal such arrangements are necessary to achieve a peace settlement, but may adversely affect the consolidation of peace and democracy. Cambodia, East Timor and Afghanistan are examples.
The three vary in terms of the types of political competition among domestic elites, their claims to authority and their power resources. Yet each set of political elites, themselves constrained by macro-historical and international norms concerning state-building, influence the institutional outcomes implemented and the subsequent domestic power balance in discernible patterns.
The Cambodian peace agreement, for instance, included specific power-sharing provisions and a roadmap for building democracy and the transition to an elected government. The transitional process, however, came up against two hard constraints: mutual hostility among groups that were far from reconciled and the resilient power of one particular group — now the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) — that was entrenched in the country’s administrative structure.
The central long-term challenge of post-conflict reconstruction like Kenya is the (re)building of institutions that will mediate political conflict and regularise the resolution of intra-ethnic competition in the political arena.
Our political landscape is dominated by elites attempting to protect their own power bases while guaranteeing universal political inclusion in an institutional vacuum. The expected peace must be used to launch institutional engineering to stack the deck in favour of democracy and hence mediate the conflict among the ethnic groups rather than power elite.
It’s time to change the game.
The writer is a freelance journalist