By Norbert Mao
To be effective, coalitions must have a clear overarching purpose. When a party is in government or poised to form a government (such as is happening in Germany) one may only secure a governing majority with the cooperation of one or more parties. In opposition parties may find that in order to create a credible opposition to the government in power they must form a coalition. And in elections parties usually find that they must come together in a coalition in order to consolidate their electoral support and achieve the best possible results.
There are many types of political coalitions. There are coalitions formed to win power through elections or popular uprisings or even armed insurrections. Then there are coalitions that are formed after elections. These are governing coalitions to consolidate power after an election or after gaining power but the need to consolidate compels the victorious party or parties to seek partners to help widen their political bases.
Many coalitions however face insurmountable challenges and most die in infancy. Some may survive for a few years and remain limping until they expire – exhausted and worn out by the problems which I call the six killer diseases responsible for the infant mortality of coalitions.
In children, these six killer diseases are measles, diphtheria, whooping cough, tetanus, polio and tuberculosis. In order to understand better the debilitating effects of the challenges coalitions face let us state briefly what these six killer diseases do to a baby.
Measles causes complications ranging from Diarrhoea, blindness and ear infections. It can also cause inflammation of the brain (encephalitis). Diphtheria leads to the development of membranes in the throat and may cause death through asphyxiation. The Diphtheria throat bacilli also produces a toxin which when in the blood stream may invade the heart and the nervous system leading to death.
Whooping Cough (pertussis) got its well known name from the “whoop” sound infected children make as they gasp for breath in repeated spasms. It causes severe malnutrition due to endless vomiting after each bout of coughing. It also leads to pneumonia and permanent brain damage.
Tetanus is a result of cutting a baby’s umbilical cord using unsterile instruments or putting substances that are contaminated with germs on the stump. Polio is a major cause of lameness.
Tuberculosis on the other hand attacks the lungs and leads to a slow wasting. When it attacks the bones it leads to terrible deformities. It can also attack the brain and lead to death. These symptoms must sound familiar to any keen observer of our political scene.
The first killer disease is failure to agree on the shared goals. This can either be a result of failing to discuss the goals openly or poor communication where each coalition member has a different idea of what the goal is. The lack of a clear goal leads to disagreements and a split in a coalition.
The second killer disease is the failure to build and maintain mutual trust. Unless members of a coalition believe that all parties are being open and sincere in what they commit to within the coalition, suspicions, even unfounded ones, will grow and wreck a coalition. To build and maintain trust, a coalition must have transparent procedures.
The third killer disease is the absence of viable and clear conflict resolution mechanisms. Partners in a coalition should have a clear and broadly accepted means and methodology of resolving conflicts that arise. These mechanisms must be established in advance.
The fourth killer disease is hidden agendas. Most coalitions fail because they are not clear about what they hope to get out of the coalition. In addition some or all of the partners in the coalition may have goals that are hidden from the other partners.
The fifth killer disease is the absence of a clear location of where decision making authority lies. There has to be a clear understanding by all parties of how decisions in the coalition are and will be made and who has control of which resources.
The sixth killer disease is conflicting priorities. Partners to a coalition may have different priorities. Some of the priorities may even be clashing with the priorities of the other partners. A coalition cannot endure or achieve its goals unless all the partners share the priorities of the coalition as a whole and are committed to working towards the shared goal.
The writer is the party President of Democratic Party (DP) Uganda’s oldest political party