Where Do We Go From Here?

Photo courtesy of State House
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Growing up in the 8-4-4 educational system, I was constantly bombarded in primary school by massive amounts of information (or maybe, it was misinformation? Hmmm…). I was never one for the Humanities, ever. Whenever Geography, History and Civics (GHC) used to swing around, my brain would instantly get tired. Needless to say, I persevered through that, and through History in high school as well. Still hate them (lol) but, I have come to appreciate what they attempt to pass across to the learner.

One of the most contentious topics in GHC and History to me was always Kenya’s political history. Countless national icons were painted as unblemished sheep, angelic and unerring, and yet, lo and behold, we live in a country that has been historically impoverished by these very same unblemished sheep. History, as we should all know, is written by the winners, and as such, isn’t really a true reflection of past events but merely a subjective conglomerate of memories.

Today I wanted to delve specifically into the history of political parties in Kenya and how they have failed us today. I feel as though today, we have very much, as a country, lost our way when it comes to what a political party should stand for. Hopefully, this article will get people to ask themselves the really tough questions.

From as far back as 1921, native Kenyans already had political entities with the Young Kikuyu Association (also known as the East Africa Association) established to assert African rights and, more specifically, to recover appropriated Kikuyu land. Back then, the main aim of most of these political parties was to provide a platform for the expression of the native Kenyan, giving him a safe space within which one could come together with their fellow African and speak out against the brutal colonial rule. A clear, concise, common objective. This hastened the political enlightenment of the Kenyan, aiding in the push for independence.

I feel like we started to lose the plot after independence was gained. Post-independence, this narrative shifted more to discourse on how to propel the country forward as an independent state. Underhandedly, everyone was just trying to scramble for power and for the resources left behind by the white man. Stiff opposition from Kenya’s first official opposition party, the Kenya People’s Union (KPU) against the governing Kenya Africa National Union (KANU) saw the party proscribed in 1969, and Kenya became a de facto (by fact) one party state. In 1982, Kenya was declared a de jure (by law) one party state under the rule of Kenya’s second president, H.E. Daniel arap Moi. You see, divergent opinion already became intolerable to the ruling party. There wasn’t enough “national cake” to pass around. It was only up until 1991 that this state was nullified, but I don’t think we have ever recovered since.

You see, what the ban on political parties effectively did was to alter forever how Kenyans view political parties. Instead of being platforms for dialogue and political expression, as they ideally should be, political parties are now viewed as election vehicles that are as disposable as a dirty diaper. You see, in an ideal situation, a political party, whether in power or not, represents the voice of an electorate, and as such, is entitled to respect. It brings together people of a common interest (be it tribe, social standing, profession, and the likes) and represents their opinion in national limelight.

As such, regardless of how much power they wield, it is still possible to effect some type of change. However, in Kenya, the atmosphere is so toxic to the point that if a party does not make it into power, it is more or less a political by-stander. Ever wondered why the “official opposition” in Kenya rarely effects mass change? They are too busy looking over the political fence (in envy) at the green grass of government officials to do their job…grass that has been watered by looted billions. At the same time, the government is just massively intolerant towards divergent opinion and criticism. So in the end, both parties maintain the crooked status quo that has seen our country’s development slow to a crawl.

What’s shocking is that historical bigwigs in Kenya are not exempt from extinction. You see, a party or coalition here is only as useful as how many votes it can garner you…and once it outlives its usefulness, it is relegated to the political dustbin. This just goes to further prove the point.

  • Look at the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) that romped into power with a massive 59% of parliamentary posts…where are the now? Pretty much defunct and inconsequential.
  • Look at the former powerhouse that is KANU…right now the most epic thing they’ve done in years is their Secretary General, Nick Salat, blurting his now famous quote’ “Tuko ndaaaaaani, naaadni, ndaaani!” They, too, are more or less defunct and inconsequential, except in select parts of the Rift Valley.
  • Look at the Party of National Unity (PNU) that (allegedly) won the highly disputed 2007 Presidential race…they were dissolved and more or less absorbed into The National Alliance (TNA), which together with the United Republican Party (URP) in the Jubilee Alliance, went on to win the 2013 General Elections.
  • AGAIN, neither URP nor TNA stood the test of time as now, they have been collapsed into the singular Jubilee Alliance Party (JAP). Will JAP be here come 2022? You can answer that question for yourself.

You see, as strategic as you can see these moves are, what they say is that political parties stand for nothing and are easily replaceable. This high turnover rate in political parties says something about the Kenyan people as a whole…that they, and the people who form these parties specifically, have no concrete objectives and no solid, long-term plan for this country. They are as variable as the snow levels on Mt. Kenya.

You see, each political party should ideally have its own personality, its own defining characteristic…an ethos that it embodies through and through, just like,as an example, a motor vehicle. To constantly jump ship from one party to the next can only be likened to changing cars each and every single day (from a Mercedes, to a BMW, to a Toyota, to a Vauxhall, and so on…), not because you like to or you can afford it, but because you genuinely have no idea what you want in a car. Politicians are well aware of this fact that political parties are just vehicles for election because they find it so easy to jump ship every time they lose a party primary. “Oh…I missed out on an ODM ticket? Let me run on a Wiper ticket.” “Oh, I missed out on the JAP ticket…let me run on a KANU ticket.”

If these parties actually stood for tangible values, jumping ship would be a difficult compromise because the electorate would view you, the aspirant, in a different light seeing as though you are aligning yourself with different values. We have a lack of political discipline. Why can’t we just develop a mentality to nurture and care for what we already have? Why can’t we inject value into already existing political parties instead of forming new ones every single time somebody sneezes? Or is the greed and thirst for power just too much?

The main reason why Kenyan politicians want to be involved with party is because of the political head-start it gives them. Many of these individuals lack confidence in their pulling power as individuals, instead choosing to cash in one the mileage gained with a political party. They know how Kenyans vote…nothing about determination, ethics or development. It’s all about tribal arithmetic. Being on a JAP ticket in Kirinyaga is 99.99% certain to win you a seat…while being on an ODM ticket in Kisumu is 99.99% certain to win you an elective seat.

At the same time, being a party members grants you privileges not available to the independent candidate: party funds, vast human resource, historical privilege and lucrative advertisement. The independent candidate has to scrap it out all on his own, and as such, is much more at a disadvantage. This is why so many unlike-minded people scramble for the few positions available at party primaries instead of trusting in themselves and in their abilities.

This is why political parties stand for nothing…because they are heterogeneous aggregates where everyone is pulling in opposite directions, more interested in selfish desires than common good. This is why it’s so easy to call it quits when things don’t go their way come election time. It was a marriage of convenience.

The worst thing to happen to Kenya now is the new breed of “independent candidates”. The number of independent candidates already cleared by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Committee (IEBC) to run in the 2017 General Election has already ballooned to over 3000, ten times the figure in the 2013 General Election, and still counting. A true independent candidate would be someone who fought it out on their own from the very beginning. What’s the case nowadays is that sore losers are defecting from their parties, where they lost in their respective primaries, to run as independent candidates. In effect, their heart is still in their former party but their body is not. Are they truly independent? Majority of these candidates are sore losers, people who want their names to appear on the General Election ballot paper by hook or by crook.

The IEBC set a deadline of May 8th for all independent aspirants to apply for clearance, and some party nomination losers have the nerve to request an extension, citing the shambolic, chaotically organised political party primaries as the reason for their delay. First of all, these individuals are already fully aware of how ill-prepared these primaries tend to be, so why do they act surprised all of a sudden? Secondly, they were fully aware of the deadline beforehand, and as such, should have applied well in advance, but you know Kenyans, the last minute rush is our thing, and it’s always somebody else’s fault, never your own. A drowning man clutches at a straw.

This confused state has only ever brought us suffering and pain. Look where we are as a country, a regional powerhouse that holds so much promise that has been economically, historically and geographically favoured…shall we always be the child with “so much potential“? When will we actually stand up to fulfill that potential? We need to wise up and take responsibility for the mistakes we have made and move forward with corrective measure. Registered voters need to shape up and do a much better job than they have been doing for the past 50 or so years.

For those who are going into their first General Election, I have a word of advice: We do not have to make a mistake so that we can regret and learn from that pain. A fool learns from his own mistakes, but a wise man learns from the mistakes of others.

So my fellow Kenyans…where do we go from here?



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