By George Kegoro
The media have been carrying out a largely misinformed debate about the performance of the Opposition during the last one year.
The evaluation of the Opposition was triggered by an assessment of the Jubilee governmentâ€™s performance in its first year in power, with the media generally concluding that the government had not done very well.
Out of a desire to look even-handed, the media then extended their appraisal to the Opposition, reaching a finding that this had not done very well either. Proceeding in this manner, however, is disingenuous for a number of reasons.
First, only the government in power has a mandate to govern the country. The Opposition does not.
Juxtaposing an assessment of the government with that of the Opposition implies that the two carry a shared burden to manage the country, and that an assessment of what the government has done is not complete without a similar treatment of the Opposition.
Reflecting the shortcomings of the government alongside those of the Opposition diminishes the responsibility that the government bears towards the country, and one is tempted to conclude that the only reason why the media have done so is to rationalise the shortcomings of the government.
Second, what constitutes â€œthe oppositionâ€ in our democracy is an alliance of many forces, including the political groups that failed to capture power (which constitute the formal opposition), the media, civil society and independent constitutional organs.
All these work together to increase accountability and to constrain the exercise of power within constitutional limits.
While it is tempting to review the performance of opposition political groups in isolation, which is what the media have done, this does not convey a complete picture about the state of the Opposition in the country.
Such a review would need to include the performance of these other entities, particularly the media and civil society.
As regards the media, they enjoyed a close relationship with the Jubilee coalition during the campaigns leading to the elections, climaxing when the President hosted a reception for the media at State House, an event that symbolised the co-option of the media by the political establishment.
Charles Onyango Obbo, the old soldier of East African media, discussed the situation of the Kenyan media in a piece in this newspaper, At the crossroads: Is it the end, or just a storm in a teacup for Kenya media?
Acknowledging that media have struck a comfortable relationship with the establishment, based on commercial interests.
If the media were to be fair in its assessment of the Opposition, they would need to reflect on their own relationship with the political establishment, on their readiness to do the bidding of the government which constitutes an unusual relationship between state and media, and the decline in their relationship with the Opposition and civil society.
Traditionally, media and civil society have mutually supporting roles as watchdogs for the public interest. However, the civil society has been walking a lonely path, condemned by the Jubilee government as a tool of foreign interests.
One issue that shows the irreconcilable positions is the search for accountability for the crimes that happened during post-election violence, in relation to which the President and the Deputy President face charges before the International Criminal Court, which civil society supports.
Over time, the position of the media on the ICC cases has evolved and the media now largely hold the same kind of hostility towards the ICC cases, as the government.
For example, a Kenyan journalist covering the last Assembly of State Parties, when asked why he did not bother to balance the positions of the government during the Assembly with the opposing views of the civil society at the same meeting, replied that, as far as he was concerned, the civil society was not a source of news!
On its part, the main opposition group, ODM, initially supported accountability before the ICC but has since vacillated, neither supporting nor opposing the cases.
The media now have more in common with the government than with either the Opposition or civil society.
It is difficult to build a viable opposition under these circumstances.
With a confused Opposition and a reactionary media establishment, it is true, as the media have concluded, that the Opposition politics is not in good health.
What is not true, however, is that the Opposition alone bears responsibility for this. The media have made compromises, placing itself in a position where it can no longer champion the aspirations for justice by ordinary people.
Last weekâ€™s expose of the shortcomings of the last elections is a rare instance in which the media have shown an interest in going against the interests of the establishment.
However, even this coverage was due to the courage of individual journalists, rather than a conviction by the media fraternity that they need to reclaim an independent path.
What motivates opposition parties is the possibility that they can capture political power. However, Kenya changed, yet again, when in March 2013 the country â€œaccepted and moved onâ€, despite yet another set of problems with the elections.
Given the problems with the countryâ€™s democracy, it would be delusional for the Opposition to think it can capture power merely because the Jubilee government is not sufficiently popular.
To pillory the Opposition, as the media have been doing, sweeps its own shortcomings under the carpet and also downplays the significant problems with the political context in which Kenyan politics is played.
This article first appeared in the Nation. Read it here