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Kenyans must seize democracy for themselves

Saturday 1 March 2008, by Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Firoze Manji

It has taken over 1,500 Kenyan lives, hundreds of thousands of internally displaced people, a destroyed economy, and intensified mistrust between ethnicities that will last generations for both Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga to realize what everyone knew from the beginning: “Neither side can realistically govern the country without the other. There must be real power-sharing to move the country forward and begin the healing and reconciliation process”.

We applaud Kofi Annan for steering Kenya back to sanity. But we also have to understand that this peace deal is an emergency stopgap solution so that the wounds of rigged elections, mobilized militias, ethnic cleansing, and extra-judicial killings may not bleed the country to death.

The Kenyan people on whose backs this power sharing deal has been signed have to seize democracy for themselves if change is to be real and long lasting, and in service of the Kenyan people and not the competing politicians.

We applaud the deal for peace but also recognize the work for a democracy that serves the people and not the elite is just starting.

We have been offered the shell of democracy, but the struggle is for its content.

We call for a democracy with content of equal land redistribution because land was at the heart of this crisis.

We call for a democracy with the content of economic justice because it is our discontent with extreme poverty that was used against us by the same politicians we are going to reward with cabinet positions.

We call for a democracy with the content of justice. In 1963, our first authoritarian leader, Jomo Kenyatta, asked us to forgive but not forget British colonialism. What he meant was forgive and forget. Let justice be the keeper of our memory.

We call for a democracy that protects its citizens from the excesses of the state. The police killings of unarmed electoral protestors recalls the extra-judicial killings of hundreds of young men criminalized because they are poor in May to June, 2007.

The police force we inherited from British colonialism was trained to see the people as the enemy. We call not only for a retraining of the police, but also for the officers and politicians who gave the shoot-to-kill orders to be brought to justice

We call for a democracy that has the content of justice, if we are to end of cycle of violence and counter violence, revenge and counter-revenge.

We call for a systematic disarming of all militia and the bringing to justice all those responsible for killings, injuries and destabilization.

We call for guarantees of safe passage and return of those violently displaced from their homes. Those who have suffered loss need to be compensated.

We call on an immediate investigation on behalf of the victims of sexual violence and rape and the bringing to justice those responsible.

We call for an independent judicial inquiry into the allegations of election rigging that led to the current crisis.

We have been very good at forgetting – the February 25th anniversary of the Wagalla massacres of 1984 in which over a thousand Kenyan Somalis were killed by the Moi government just passed without as much as a murmur. The recent Eldoret Killings recall the Eldoret killings of 1992 in which over a thousand Kenyans lost their lives. We call for historical and present day crimes against the Kenyan people and humanity to be punished.

We welcome the calm that the agreement brings. But this must not be confused with peace: peace will only be possible through justice and the placing of the truth in the public arena and addressing injustice and inequality.

A process must begin now to consider whether the constitution as it exists, and as it will be amended by parliament shortly, is the constitution that can guarantee peace, or whether we need to establish one that reflects the vision and values of all citizens.

In short, we call for a democracy that serves the people, and not a democracy that dresses up thieves and political thugs in suits.

Let us make sure Kibaki and Raila do not forget that they are in power as a result of over 1,500 needless deaths and the thousands who have been displaced and the anxiety and fear of millions of Kenyans.

A true democracy is for the Kenyan people to win, or to lose.

*Mukoma Wa Ngugi and Firoze Manji are the editors of Pambazuka News.

**Please send comments to or comment online at

The full text of the agreement signed by Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga is available at the link below.
Kenya: Agreement on the Principles of Partnership of the Coalition Government


The crisis triggered by the 2007 disputed presidential election has brought to the surface deep-seated and long-standing divisions within Kenyan society. If left unaddressed, these divisions threaten the very existence of Kenya as a unified country. The Kenyan people are now looking to their leaders to ensure that their country will not be lost.

Given the current situation, neither side can realistically govern the country without the other. There must be real power-sharing to move the country forward and begin the healing and reconciliation process.

With this agreement, we are stepping forward together, as political leaders, to overcome the current crisis and to set the country on a new path. As partners in a coalition government, we commit ourselves to work together in good faith as true partners, through constant consultation and willingness to compromise.

This agreement is designed to create an environment conducive to such a partnership and to build mutual trust and confidence. It is not about creating positions that reward individuals. It seeks to enable Kenya’s political leaders to look beyond partisan considerations with a view to promoting the greater interests of the nation as a whole. It provides the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda, to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict, and to create a better, more secure, more prosperous Kenya for all.

To resolve the political crisis, and in the spirit of coalition and partnership, we have agreed to enact the National Accord and Reconciliation Act 2008, whose provisions have been agreed upon in their entirety by the parties hereto and a draft copy is appended hereto.

Its key points are:

* There will be a Prime Minister of the Government of Kenya, with authority to coordinate and supervise the execution of the functions and affairs of the Government of Kenya.

* The Prime Minister will be an elected member of the National Assembly and the parliamentary leader of the largest party in the National Assembly, or of a coalition, if the largest party does not command a majority.

* Each member of the coalition shall nominate one person from the National Assembly to be appointed a Deputy Prime Minister.

* The Cabinet will consist of the President, the Vice-President, the Prime Minister, the two Deputy Prime Ministers and the other Ministers. The removal of any Minister of the coalition will be subject to consultation and concurrence in writing by the leaders.

* The Prime Minister and Deputy Prime Ministers can only be removed if the National Assembly passes a motion of no confidence with a majority vote.

* The composition of the coalition government will at all times take into account the principle of portfolio balance and will reflect their relative parliamentary strength.

* The coalition will be dissolved if the Tenth Parliament is dissolved; or if the parties agree in writing; or if one coalition partner withdraws from the coalition.

* The National Accord and Reconciliation Act shall be entrenched in the Constitution.

Having agreed on the critical issues above, we will now take this process to Parliament. It will be convened at the earliest moment to enact these agreements. This will be in the form of an Act of Parliament and the necessary amendment to the Constitution.

We believe by these steps we can together in the spirit of partnership bring peace and prosperity back to the people of Kenya who so richly deserve it.