The Jubilee merger has elicited all manner of reactions across the political divide. However, there are three myths perpetuated by Cord leaders that I need to debunk.
One, ODM leader Raila Odinga says the merger of 12 political parties is a threat to political parties. He says this is a sign President Uhuru Kenyatta wants to turn Kenya into a single-party state. This is completely false. Kenya currently has more than 60 political parties and the merger of TNA, URP, JAP, APK, UDF, New Ford Kenya, Ford People, UPK, Republican Council, Tip Tip and GNU does not mean that the other 50 are no longer relevant.
Two, Raila also claims that the merger is an attack on Kenya’s democracy. This is also completely untrue. Jubilee is a coalition of the willing and no one has been forced to join the new party. In addition (and as I said above) there are still at least 50 other political parties that Kenyans who do not want to be in Jubilee can join.
Three, Ford Kenya secretary general Eseli Simiyu claims that what Jubilee is doing is illegal. In a column in this newspaper last week, he said the Jubilee merger is unconstitutional because Kenya is a multiparty democracy. Again, there is no way the merger of 12 parties out of 60 can be considered as turning Kenya into a single-party state. In addition, Eseli belongs to the same Parliament that passed the Political Parties Amendment Bill 2016 allowing parties to merge.
The myths threaten to cover up a key benefit that the merger introduces to the Kenyan political environment.
The reality of our politics is that since the re-introduction of multiparty democracy in 1992, our political parties have been tribal. Currently, within Jubilee TNA is perceived as being a Kikuyu party, URP a Kalenjin party and New Ford-K a Luhya party. In Cord, ODM is known as a Luo party, Wiper a Kamba party and Ford-K a Luhya party. Others like Ford People are affiliated to the Kisii, etc. This is the harsh reality of our parties, despite what the national party leadership structure fronted to the public might look like.
Apparently, Cord would prefer we continue doing politics like this because it makes for easy political mobilisation. One can then mobilise tribes by urging ‘let us unite and remove tribe X from office and put in our people’. This is just another version of ‘it is now our turn to eat’. Unfortunately, in the wake of such mobilisation we leave a country divided. Each election becomes a political contest between various Kenyan tribes. This is very dangerous, as we saw in 2007.
Announcing the merger, Uhuru stated that the new party will go a long way in uniting Kenyans irrespective of their tribal or regional affiliations. Now if only another brave national leader would establish a party like JP, to compete with JP!
We cannot build a nation by having different political parties pulling in different directions on the basis of tribe. What we need are political parties where the various tribes are included in such a way that the party does not belong to any tribe.
If we have at least two such major parties that transcend tribal identities, we will get to that point where our political parties unite Kenyans, not divide them. Such parties will also ensure that different tribes get to work together politically towards a common political centre. Then we will build one nation.