A permanent campaign mode; political parties that are used as special purpose vehicles for elections only, then quick to fold up upon delivery; politicians who at one point prepared to run as loyal party members then quickly swap sides to become independents as soon as they lose that golden party ticket; the bad practice of voter bribery to entice the peasantry and buy the much-needed vote; to the cross overs and realignments that become reality once the electoral outcomes are confirmed. And we are yet to talk about the campaign hate speech and fake news that is propagated by the same political class. This is Kenya’s political reality today.
Since the elections in August last year, politicians across the divide have thrown barbs at each other. There are sour losers and not-so-magnanimous winners going at each other’s throats. Every platform available must be exploited; funeral ceremonies, book launches, church services, and meet-the-people tours. The agenda keeps changing; it was the IEBC at some point before it graduated into a secret dossier with alternative results. But we have also had the majority vs minority debates in parliament, the government appointments, and who is to blame for the economy (and even the natural drought, right?). Right now, the battleground has moved to the hygiene of the political parties.
The once mighty Jubilee Party is hemorrhaging. And fast. It was Jeremiah Kioni, the party’s Secretary General, who was seen as the poster boy of the secret election dossier that made the political opposition wax lyrical about stolen elections. And they glued together on this agenda for some time. Now, suddenly, a section of the party has already attempted a coup to remove Kioni and others. As things stand now, reprieve has only come from a dispute lodged by the aggrieved parties with the Political Parties Dispute Tribunal (PPDT). If our party history is to inform us, then the die has been cast and this is just a matter of time for Jubilee to face its waterloo if Kenyan party history is anything to go by.
It won’t be the first. Since the advent of multi-party politics in 1992, we have seen parties form and crumble depending on their performance in elections and the realignments that are informed more by political expediency and opportunism than hygiene. The original Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was formed in 1992 to engage the then ruling party KANU split even before the elections, leading to an easy victory for a then besieged ruling party. Since then, we have seen the demise of other strong parties; the Orange Democratic Movement of Kenya (ODM-K), The National Rainbow Coalition (NARC), the Party of National Unity (PNU), The National Alliance (TNA), and now possibly the Jubilee Party. A further assessment of the above indicates that in each of the elections since 2002, we have had a new and different political vehicle take power. Not healthy, one would say, for our political system.
The lack of political hygiene and basically bad political manners influence the nature of discourses that inform our national progress and development. Our leadership is more busy castigating and undercutting each other to concentrate on the many issues that would improve the state of affairs in the country. Faced with drought, the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, a global recession, and the effects of long-drawn political campaigns, what the country needs now is a period of sobriety. The current political push and pull should act as a catalyst and incentive to build bridges (pun intended) within the political class. The new government needs time to organize and mobilize resources for much-needed interventions that address pressing issues such as famine and the rising cost of living. The political opposition needs to marshal its forces to keep the government in check while at the same time contributing to a debate on topical issues to improve our polity.
It must be said that it is not for lack of a legal framework that we lack hygiene in our politics. We have laws on limiting and regulating campaign finance. Only that another bit of bad manners has been at play in parliament with the MPs (both sides of the divide) conspiring to handicap its implementation in any election since its enactment in 2013. A more progressive Political Parties Act is in place, even with the provision of registering a so-called coalition political party! This was expected to ‘house’ the interests of multiple parties in one political formation. We also have institutions such as the earlier mentioned PPDT and the Political Liaison Committee to address inter-party issues. If all these, including other attendant laws and statutes, were adhered to, then Leonard Mambo Mbotela’s Je, huu ni Uungwana (Swahili for ‘Is this respectable?’) mantra would not keep floating in our minds every time we think of Kenyan politics.
My simplified understanding of the need for politics in our lives is to organize society alongside its interests and needs. Our body politik should guarantee progress in our socio-economic pursuits which in turn would lead to growth and a satisfying degree of prosperity over the time of our lives. With a devolved system of government that is still in its infancy, the work is cut out for the political class. The current global crisis should be a good challenge for our leaders to contribute positively to the much-needed solutions required to turn the tide. This will require a level of discipline and objectivity, two things that have been deficient in Kenyan politics today.