MWAMISI: Nexus of political power, wealth and nepotism in opposition politics

Opposition politicos can’t agree and reconcile for fear of oblivion.

In Summary
  • Unless the opposition runs their own political houses with democratic ideals, equality and ethics, public trust will remain elusive.
  • This is not something they can develop overnight.
Azimio leader Raila Odinga (fourth right) and coalition summit leaders address the press on January 30,2024.
OPPOSITION POLITICS: Azimio leader Raila Odinga (fourth right) and coalition summit leaders address the press on January 30,2024.

It would be sheer gullibility if Kalonzo Musyoka, Eugene Wamalwa, and other Azimio politicians were caught off guard by Raila or Orange Democratic Movement’s current 'recruitment drive' across the country. Raila was obviously going to react to Kalonzo’s push for the opposition presidential ticket in 2027 and downsize him. Prior to the commencement of this new campaign, Kalonzo and his Wiper brigade had sought that Azimo embrace his presidential candidature for 2027, even entertaining hopes of initiating his presidential campaigns early as they introduced the 'Mapema ndio best' mantra. Kalonzo and Eugene seem to have opted to come together and proceed on a direction-challenged political excursion.

On the other hand, Raila and his Orange Democratic Movement Party are going across the country on the ‘recruitment drive’ which is seen by many as another platform to revive his undying presidential candidature. Clearly, Raila will not relent and will give it a shot again in 2027. This must make the likes of Martha Karua, Jeremiah Kioni and other weaker politicians really agitated as Kalonzo and Eugene. These feelings may not be vividly expressed to the public, but their existence is a no-brainer. Karua, Eugene, and others are political minions compared to the ‘eternal’ Raila.

Besides the agitation for power, there is reason opposition politicians will embark on drives to build a following across the country. In Kenya, leaders of political parties cement the support of their own ethnic communities first. Some parties, like Wiper, have never grown any stronger outside of the regions of their kingpins. ODM and the UDA are the only parties today with strong nationwide support, with that of the former dwindling and the ruling party’s wide-ranging gains in 2022 defying political predictions.

One major reason some opposition politicians cannot agree to reconcile their agendas and to come together is the diametrically opposed interests and fear of political death by some. It is impossible also, for Raila and Kalonzo to ditch or merge their own parties because the Orange Democratic Movement is more than twice as large as Wiper and Kalonzo and his cronies would have a weak say in such an arrangement. In that scenario, any consensus-building for a single candidate would lead to a bulldozing by the ODM brigade and Kalonzo would then begin to wallow in the miasma of political insignificance.

Furthermore, political parties are wealth generators. In the intricate web of African politics, the utilisation of political parties as vehicles for personal wealth accumulation has become an all-too-familiar narrative. Across the African continent, politicians have adeptly manoeuvred the structures of political parties to amass wealth, often at the expense of their constituents' well-being and the broader interests of the nation.

At the heart of this phenomenon lies the intertwining of political power and economic gain. African political parties, rather than serving as platforms for genuine representation and the advancement of democratic ideals, have frequently been co-opted into instruments for personal enrichment. This exploitation of political machinery for personal gain manifests in various forms, from corruption and embezzlement to nepotism and cronyism. This is a reality in Kenya’s opposition politics.

Moreover, political parties serve as conduits for patronage networks, wherein politicians reward loyalty and support with lucrative positions, contracts, and favours. This system of political patronage perpetuates a cycle of dependency and subservience, wherein individuals are incentivised to align themselves with parties in pursuit of personal gain, rather than working towards the collective good of the country. This is part of the reason we have an opposition opposing every government policy for the sake of opposing, because there is no heart for the people.

Furthermore, the lack of transparency and accountability within many African political parties exacerbates the issue of wealth accumulation. You will notice how quickly people with varying opinion are branded betrayers and rogues. Limited oversight and weak regulatory frameworks provide fertile ground for illicit financial activities to flourish unchecked within the parties. Without injecting money into party activities, politicians become insignificant to the patron. This is why some Kenyan governors or former governors are powerful in opposition parties because they inject the money they siphon from Wananchi into party activities. They financially facilitate the patrons that method for political survival. This is believed to be why a former governor in western Kenya is very close to a party leader currently.

This pervasive culture of political self-enrichment is the reason why some prominent opposition honchos will not drop their perennial bids for presidency. If they do, their business enterprise will die. Strengthening democratic institutions, enhancing transparency and accountability mechanisms, and promoting civic engagement are essential steps towards combating corruption, but this remains a pipe dream in Kenyan political parties. Instead, the opposition will continue to level accusations about corruption against the government, but ignore corruption within its own ranks.

The key opposition figures in Kenya have their kin in the East African Parliament and they have ambition and plans of mainstreaming them in their political party and involve them in party goings-on so that they will inherit them. Deep down they have no interest to hand over their political muscle and control to other politicians who appear close to them, because the parties are money-minting vehicles. Lower rank politicians in the parties will be uncomfortable with the agenda, but they must remain quiet for fear of being exorcised. The best way the party leaders sustain their agenda is to ensure the matters never come up for discussion on any party platform.

Nepotism undermines the meritocratic principles upon which effective governance should be built. When political appointments and opportunities are granted based on familial ties rather than qualifications and competence, it results in the elevation of individuals who may lack the skills and expertise required to fulfill their roles effectively. This compromises the quality of leadership and diminishes the capacity of institutions to deliver meaningful outcomes for citizens. Yet the opposition honchos will go out branding themselves as social democrats and presenting their parties as democratic. Kenyans know better.

Unless the opposition runs their own political houses with democratic ideals, equality and ethics, public trust will remain elusive. This is not something they can develop overnight. To build more inclusive, transparent, and accountable political systems, it is imperative to challenge and dismantle nepotistic practices, and instead prioritise meritocracy, fairness, and the common good in political decision-making.

The writer is a political commentator 

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