PATRONAL PRESIDENTIALISM

Jubilee Party no longer a democracy but a Procrustean bed

Like the Greek Procrustes, Jubilee’s rendition also wants everyone to fit its political bed to perfection

In Summary

• Every effort has been made to ensure members who are not aligned with the party position on the succession and BBI are dethroned from their leadership positions.

• Subsequently, members’ free thoughts are wilting and intolerance towards opposing views is growing

President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the Jubilee Party leader, at the Nairobi National Cargo Deconsolidation Centre on February 10.
THE BOSS: President Uhuru Kenyatta, who is also the Jubilee Party leader, at the Nairobi National Cargo Deconsolidation Centre on February 10.
Image: PSCU

Procrustes was a cruel robber in Greek mythology. He owned a small estate in Corydalus in Attica, which was between Athens and Eleusis.

Procrustes had a peculiar sense of hospitality. Whenever travellers passed through his estate, he welcomed them into his house, gave them a generous dinner, and invited them to spend the night in a rather special bed. Tired from their travels, many travellers took him up on his seemingly friendly offer.

As soon as the travellers lay down to sleep, Procrustes tied their hands and feet to the special bed. If the traveller was taller than the bed, Procrustes would chop off their legs with a sharp hatchet until they fit. If they were shorter than the bed, he would stretch them on a rack until they were as long as the bed. He wanted the traveller to fit the bed to perfection. In either case, the traveller always died.

Going by recent political actions orchestrated by the ruling Jubilee Party, one would not be faulted for thinking that it has become a Procrustean bed. Actions and utterances by the party’s leadership have implied that there is a certain special bed that all Jubilee Party members have to fit. And if they do not conform, the rendition of Jubilee’s Procrustes either cuts them down to size, or stretches them to fit.

Every effort has been made to ensure members who are not aligned with the preferred party position on matters presidential succession and constitutional amendments are dethroned from their leadership positions, while others have been expelled from the party altogether.

This purge has cut across the political spectrum — from those who once held gubernatorial positions, to those who once occupied parliamentary leadership ranks, and those who represented special interest populations as nominated members. They proved to be taller than the Procrustean bed. So they were chopped off.

Others appear to be shorter than the bed. So they have been stretched to fit by receiving promissory notes for conversion of car loans into grants, the establishment of youth commissions, a four-year Helb repayment grace period and the establishment of a ward development fund.

Like the Greek Procrustes, Jubilee’s rendition also wants everyone to fit his political bed to perfection by either chopping off the parts that don’t fit or by stretching them to ensure that they do. Either way, none of those lying on the bed wins. Only Procrustes benefits from this peculiar sense of hospitality.

Although no literal limbs have been amputated or stretched to fit a certain special bed, individual members rights of association and freedom of expression have been disallowed in Jubilee in favor of the party position that has been articulated by the top leadership.

Subsequently, members’ free thoughts are wilting; intolerance levels towards opposing views is are growing; respect and adherence to settled laws, rules and procedures is faltering and freedom of the members to make independent choices is shrinking.

Make no mistake, these are the drums of a non-violent war.

Succession politics is a war fought by non-violent means. While some wars are resolved on a bloody battlefield, others are waged in political party boardrooms. And the latter is no less real.

Campaigns for 2022 elections are in motion; battle lines have been drawn; foot soldiers have been mobilised; allies have been sought and passions have been inflamed.

The Jubilee Party is at war with itself. And although no military tanks are rolling, and no guns are firing, other means of coercion have replaced them as arsenals towards the leadership’s quest for political hegemony.

Begs the question, is this the face of democracy? One that is of the coercive sort, rather than the idealised version documented in text books, and valiantly fought for by spirited political activists? Or is it a Procrustean bed?

I submit that Jubilee Party has become a Pocrustean bed that is exacerbated by a patronal presidency that doubles as the party’s leadership. Patronal presidentialism refers to a political system where a directly elected president is constitutionally established as the country’s dominant political figure. This is defined by three key components.

First, the incumbent arrogates to himself great formal powers relative to other state organs where he decides who is to be punished and who is to be rewarded. Second, he wields a high degree of informal power based on widespread patron-client relationships at the intersection of the state and economy.

Third, he leverages patronage to exercise tyrannical political authority, primarily through selective transfer of resources, rather than through formalised institutional practices established by the rule of law. This makes the incumbent hold too much power within and outside the political institution, and therefore, what he says and does sets the tone.

A patronal presidency is a very powerful weapon because it can be used to divide and conquer, thus preventing any form of collective opposition action. Politically appointed officials are easily fired, while elected officials are challenged or disqualified from holding office or seeking re-election.

Economically, businesses are denied licenses, deprived of government business or subjected to crippling inspections or taxation. Legally, judicial offices are incapacitated by reduction of resource allocation or simply humiliated.

And because there often is an expectation that most people will follow instructions in support of the existing regime based on what has befallen those that previously dared to defy it, very few think it worthwhile to make themselves vulnerable by displeasing the incumbent.

To recognise patronal presidentialism, one must shed some assumptions of how politics is deemed to work by replacing the theory of the ideal with the theory of the real. It means concepts like public participation, political ideology, party elections, and majority rule belong to the theory of the ideal. However, ethnic politics, strong-arm tactics on public officers, political kingpins and 'mtu wetu' syndrome, are in the realm of the real. Does any of this sound familiar? You be the judge.

Finally, my unsolicited advice is to Kiambu Senator Kimani Wamatangi. In war, truth is the first casualty, and the Jubilee leadership has learned how to shoot without missing when confronted with the truth. Consequently, if you choose to be truthful, you must also learn how to fly without perching.

You don’t become completely free by just avoiding to be a slave; you also need to avoid becoming a master – Nassim Nicholas Taleb