Just three months ago, as I have exclaimed elsewhere, who would have imagined that Kenya's talking heads would be as embroiled in the Grand Opposition debate as they are? I didn't. Still, I am certainly enjoying this enthralling phase of our political evolution. Enthralling, that is, if Namwamba and his team don't betray the cause.
It's all been very dialectical. First, the general election of December 2007. Then the disputed presidential election results. Then the chaos and the blood-letting. "Den cometh Koffi, den de peace -- which only a true peacemaker bringeth." Then Kibaki and Raila negotiate an unbelievably skewed distribution of cabinet slots. Then the fallout of disappointment at Raila's performance, left alone with Kibaki. In Kisumu, that disappointment exploded a few weeks ago into what must be the first true expression of proletarian (and semi-proletarian) disenchantment with the dominant power structure in those parts! The rest, as one might say, is this unfolding -- this current -- history that we are very much a part of.
On the night Kenya's parliament elected the new speaker, my impression of Namwamba was of someone who needed to grow up a just little more. Less than three months later, he has become the symbol, the robust new face, of Kenya's never-say-die politics. In a way, he is the new Orengo (and perhaps Raila, if he can secure a solid political base).
How did things change so fast that Raila, the doyen of opposition politics, is now seen as the apologist for an established political order of which he is only tenuously a part; the defender of a status quo which seeks to concentrate political power (and then economic power) in the hands of the very wenyewe whom the Second Liberation was supposed to "drive out of town"? Whichever way it happened, it is the very reason for the rise of Namwamba and his team -- motley as it is, and flawed as some of its members are.
"We are now in government," Raila reminds the team (in an earlier day they would have been the vinyangalika) -- who must be shown and kept in their place. If they want to form a Grand Opposition, then they must resign from parliament and seek fresh mandate from the people under the banner of parties of their choice. Certainly not ODM or PNU, without which they (with the exception of Jirongo and only a fistful more) would not be in parliament now.
Since ODM and PNU are in government, he reasons, and their members cannot be both in government and opposition. That, in his view, is an irreconcilable contradiction. The cabinet even convinced itself that it had the power to veto the Grand Coalition. Veto it as what? As an insolent thought? As a piece of legislation yet to be tabled? Then ODM called a meeting at Safari Park Hotel to thrash out this apparent confusion of memes. According to reports, however, only some 40 out of 96 ODM MPs (including Namwamba and "the little Ruto") attended. There was a stalemate.
I don't know what Namwamba's career path is going to be in the years and decades to come, but right now he has a very important role to play -- a role so dramatically abandoned by Raila at potentially the moment of his greatest triumph yet. Right now, Ababu (Don't-abandon-the-cause) Namwamba is the symbol of hope for a system of governance with proper checks and balances -- a system disdainful of private interest masquerading as public interest.
The idea of the Grand Opposition is borne of necessity. With almost everybody in government now, it is something of a deception, and politically fraudulent, to insist that Namwamba and his team seek to establish what could equally be achieved by the back bench -- achieved, that is, without in the process ruffling the feathers of the mighty. In the present circumstances, clearly, the back bench would be a divide-and-rule device, a smokescreen for grand mischief. As a solution, it is highly unsatisfactory vis-a-vis the right of the people to express and realize their will, unfettered, through their elected representatives. It is indeed a corrosion and even a negation of that right. And it displays a basic and hidden fear, on the part of those who would use the parliamentary system to ascend to power, of the principle of advice-and-consent -- in the true meaning of the term -- which ought to govern all democratic discourse.
So such negations must in turn, or preemptively, be negated. It is all very dialectical, as I said. But our history is peopled by individuals who rose on the back of the people's aspirations for a good life, only to succumb to the lure of personal aggrandizement, or the fear (in the face of unrelenting intimidation and assault) of unbearable personal loss. I don't know how Namwamba will deal with such pressure, which will surely come. But let him run the good race. As long as he can, let him carry the baton -- in this race whose length, in time and space, no one can tell. Someone will surely be there when it is time to pass the baton. Namwamba's historic significance is that he was there when it needed to be passed.
And his team should take solace in the fact that those opposed to the Grand Opposition will soon ask for its support to pass in parliament whatever version of the new constitution the Grand Coalition will craft for the people's approval. The time for a quid pro quo awaits in the near distance -- near, yes, but out of view for the near-sighted who want to eat their cake and have it.