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December 11, 2018

Kenya is a multi-ethnic democracy, not multiparty

NASA Leaders Raila Odinga and Alonzo Musyoka during campaign period last year.  /File
NASA Leaders Raila Odinga and Alonzo Musyoka during campaign period last year. /File

The past weeks were expected to be politically tense with the internal fissures in Jubilee after the Parliamentary Group was abruptly cancelled.

But matters were helped by the escalation of student unrest in the country. In tow were the MPs throwing tantrums liberally at the joint parliamentary investigations of illicit and contraband sugar.

Successively, top Kenya Power chiefs were hauled before the courts. The attention had all along been trained on Jubilee because of the heat generated by the 2022 succession politics.

With NASA having closed shop early in the year, all eyes were now focused on the intense internal competition that Jubilee would then have to deal with. It must have been, therefore, good relief to the ruling party when the public attention was shifted by the ne developments in the country.

Lost in this melodrama is the role of political parties and whether Jubilee or its rival ODM truly operates as political parties.

Parties are social movements established for the sole purpose of seeking and capturing state power. Once this objective is attained, party leaders gain legitimacy to use their leadership vision to govern on behalf of the citizens.

Parties are organised on the basis of ideology. The ideological orientation distinguishes one party from the other and sets it apart from the rest of the pack. They use the party to mobilise the citizens by collecting and collating their interests towards a national goal.

These interests are then aggregated and formulated into a development programme, normally presented as a manifesto during the campaigns. It is during the campaigns that parties present their development agenda and preferred candidates to the electorate.

In liberal democracies, the electorate votes and the candidate with majority votes declared the winner. However, in truly party democracies, the electorate votes for their preferred parties, which thereafter distribute their winning votes to their candidates.

They use the published party lists to appoint the winners to various seats competed for. Therefore, the party with the majority forms the government and nominates the head of the executive, usually the Prime Minister.

The other equally important role of the party is public policy formulation. This role is for the ruling and opposition parties through sponsoring policy programmes and monitoring their implementation. A party in opposition will play a critical role by keeping the government in check and sponsoring pro-people legislation.

Historically, political parties played a key role in Kenya’s struggle for emancipation from the colonial yoke. The early formations are associated with Harry Thuku at Kikuyu Central Association and later Kenya African Union of Achieng’ Oneko, Jomo Kenyatta, James Gichuru and  Walter Odede.

Later, after the emergency declaration, parties were formed on district basis and prominent among these were the Nairobi African District Congress of CMG Argwings Kodhek. NADC lost gravitas to Tom Mboya’s Nairobi Peoples Convention Party after the 1958 election. Mboya had beaten Kodhek in that maiden national election.

Soon thereafter, Oginga Odinga’s clarion call of Uhuru na Kenyatta gained momentum and by 1960, KAU was reorganised and renamed Kanu, ostensibly to accommodate Mboya’s NPCP. Mboya was an organiser par excellence.

He is credited with infusing his labour organisation skills to establish a formidable party in Kanu. He also benefited from his extensive international exposure having been elected chair of All Africa Peoples Conference in Ghana. His global labour movement connections came in handy in resource mobilisation for the independence party.

Kanu was thus formed in the true sense of contemporary party understanding. To counter this behemoth, the colonial interests overtly supported the formation of a rival party, Kadu. It brought together leaders who thought they were marginalised in Kanu during its launch in Kiambu. Daniel Moi, Ronald Ngala and Masinde Muliro considered the posts given to them as nominal and more as tokens than substantive.

Without warning their parliamentary colleagues, they announced the formation of Kadu and received support from their respective ethnic communities. The seeds of ethnic mobilisation for political processes were thus sown and with it tribalism firmly planted.

Kanu won the ensuing independence elections and formed the internal government in June and subsequently the uhuru government in December of 1963. Kanu’s manifesto in these two quick successive elections is still considered the most brilliant of our recent times thanks to Mboya, Mwai Kibaki, Pio Gama Pinto and Wilson Ndolo Ayah. History has not recorded anything significant on the Kadu manifesto but they campaigned on the majimbo platform, which was secured in the Lancaster constitution.

However, what is clear is that while Kanu campaigned on the platform of hope and opportunity for national development, Kadu sold fear of exclusion to its base. Upon formation of the government, the Kanu manifesto was reorganised into the all-time celebrated Sessional Paper No 1 of 1965. It was the blue print for national development for the next decade and rightly credited or blamed for our successes or failures respectively. In that period, the parties played their rightful roles as envisaged by the early scholars of democracy.

Things turned for the worse when Cold War intrigues took advantage of Kenya’s local ethnic rivalries to scuttle party politics. Borrowing from his socialist orientations, then Vice President Jaramogi Oginga Odinga engineered the collapse of Kadu to establish the one-party state.

Kenya became a republic with an overbearing and almost imperial presidency under the monolithic Kanu. The capitalist side of the cold war divide helped jettison Odinga out of Kanu and the government soon after. His attempts to establish an alternative party were thwarted by clever machinations of Mboya, the Kanu secretary general.

The fruits of tribal party affiliation began to blossom with the 1967 little general elections. Odinga’s Kenya Peoples Union returned successes only in Luoland. Candidates from outside Nyanza in the by-elections were trounced, including the KPU deputy leader Bildad Kagia. The ideological differences between Kenyatta and Odinga assumed an ethnic dimension with catastrophic consequences.

Kenya thus remained partyless until Moi took over upon Kenyatta’s death. Moi resuscitated the party to deal with the all-powerful bureaucratic civil service, which had sustained Kenyatta’s rule. With the party, he created alternative power centres outside of government and this led to the establishment of party dictatorship. As a de jure one-party state, Kenya legally established a totalitarian government.

The citizens grumbled under the weight of heavy handedness of the party and security operatives but the leaders ignored. When the leadership responded, it was to detain, hound out of government or assassinate those with dissenting voices. The collapse of the Berlin Wall and end of cold war was therefore godsend to Kenyans. Moi was forced to accept political pluralism and open competition. Multiparty democracy resumed. However, other than Kanu in the 1992 election, all the other parties were ethnic-based.

Ford movement crumbled under the weight of tribal jingoism with the arrival of Kenneth Matiba from a London hospital. The opposition unity splintered into factions along ethnic fault lines. Two major groups emerged with Ford-Kenya under the elder Jaramogi Odinga and Ford-Asili under Matiba. Ford-Kenya under Odinga had a semblance of regional balance with a sprinkling of MPs, one from central, and handful from Eastern, Northeastern and has become entrenched in our politics. The circus continued into the 1997 election, with Ford-Kenya splitting further into NDP under Raila Odinga and the remnants under Wamalwa Kijana. The country was firmly on the path of multi-ethnic democracy.

 The Narc tragedy of the 2003 betrayal of the MoU between LDP and NAK (Raila and Kibaki) firmly consolidated the ethnic balkanization of the country. The 2007 General Election was won or lost on the premise of 40 vs 2 campaigns. Citizens paid little attention to the ODM and PNU manifestos.

The ethnic chauvinism of those in power rose to unprecedented levels. The desire by those excluded from government to even the spoils of independence drove Kenya to the edge of civil war. When the grand coalition government was established, it was more of a coalition of tribal leaders than parties. The subsequent elections of 2013 and 2017 followed a similar pattern, with some presidential candidates totally avoiding campaigns in some counties.

What has befallen the country is regrettable but reversible. Columnist Charles Onyango Obo averred that the rest of Africa should emulate Kenyans’ pragmatism in politics. That our ability to avoid unnecessary party and ideological encumbrances have enabled us to be dynamic. Kenyans are considered to be capable of crafting the most unlikely of alliances for the benefit and prosperity of the country. This uncanny skill in political dexterity should be our gift to the region in quest of political stability and peace. The jury is still out as regards the veracity of Obo’s postulation. Political party leaders together with the national institutions should rise to the occasion and promote true party politics.

Party politics is more progressive and democratic than ethnic mobilisation in political processes. As it is, Kenya is de jure multi-party democracy but de facto multi-ethnic oligarchy. This is anti-development and backward politics in a community of modern and civilized nations.

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