It’s interesting how Kenyans describe themselves as political animals because of the “interest” in politics yet never participate actively in political matters outside of voting. However, this is not entirely their fault. Political parties in Kenya lack anything remotely interesting outside the usual chest-thumping characters. They have a structure only on paper, but handle things ad-hoc and at the interest of the party leader most of the time. Internal party elections in some political parties can be disrupted by outside forces with impunity and members appear helpless under such circumstances
Worse still, political parties in Kenya are not driven by ideologies but individual interests with the exception of KANU. Although since the retirement of President Moi from active politics, KANU has become a pale shadow of its former self, hardly coming out clearly on any position of national importance. There was a time the public knew how KANU would respond to an issue, and indeed many older adults were registered members of KANU. The structures worked and members spoke with one accord even though this success was largely because the party leader was a known dictator.
Jubilee coalition just announced that they will be unveiling their new party soon, and a record 12 parties have so far indicated they will be dissolving to join the new Jubilee party. That announcement speaks volumes. First it questions the idea of political ideology in this country. Did the parties that dissolve believe the new Jubilee had similar values to theirs? How does this move affect the watchdog role of political parties? While it would be a blessing to have a party with a national outlook as the new improved Jubilee party promises, we should be concerned if this merger absorbs opposition leaders to the point that we are left with a weak opposition party.
A report published by the Institute for Education in Democracy (IED) last year revealed that none of Kenya’s political parties had a national outlook as all lacked representation in at least 24 counties. Coalitions formed in the lead up to the 2013 election tried to address this gap. While it’s clear a party shall not be constituted based on religion, ethnicity, gender or regional basis, this still appears to be a grey area as most parties are formed based on regional blocks popularly referred to as coalition of tyrannies of numbers.
The recent Political Parties (Amendment) Act has effectively put an end to the briefcase parties that added to the confusion about the role of political parties in Kenya. Hopefully, political parties will come down to a number that represents only serious Kenyans. Perhaps under these circumstances it would be prudent for Kenyans to consider identifying a party that represents their ideals and make changes from within.
Furthermore, while it’s difficult telling just how many parties in Kenya meet the minimum required threshold especially with regard to membership. Especially, because, the number of Kenyans who complain about being registered without their knowledge increase in electioneering period, suggesting malpractice.
Maybe that’s why the electorate relates very casually with political parties. If the political parties were more organized, with working party systems and accountability mechanisms definitely more Kenyans would be actively registered members but these wanting structures and rumors of parties seeking bribe to nominate members for office have kept people away from an otherwise important political activity. Given this rampant political culture the public ends up simply voting one party for all elected positions thereby hurting themselves and falling into the politicians trap.
Now that we have established parties are mere vehicles to power the best way forward is to:
- Single out individuals who show leadership mettle and vote for them regardless of the party they come from.
- Join the political party your favorite candidates end up in and mobilize your friends and relatives to join to also become members of the party;
- Ensure you and your friends and relatives show up on party nomination day to ensure they get the nomination ticket.
- Remain vigilant on matters civic education. Political parties are supposed to mobilize their members to vote by offering civic education, translating to more votes for them. It’s their duty to compliment the IEBC as they both gain. However political parties in Kenya while capable of mobilizing their voters, peddle propaganda at the expense of civic education.
- Push for structural and ideology driven change in the parties you join.
Today being the international Youth Day, Kenyan youth should take stock of what it means to be a youth in Kenya today and how best to be part of the solution. For starters, take keen interest in those elected or nominated leaders who were supposed to champion youth causes and didn’t and remember to show them the contempt card. Secondly, refuse the bandwagon mentality of “our people” that keeps the youth busy but take them nowhere. The youth must put the youth demographic first, and then women. Select and campaign for leaders who offer realistic long-term responses to the challenges that most affect you. Don’t sell your birthright for pocket change.