Party manifesto is the primary tool via which every political party makes its position known in a raft of issues touching on the governance of a country. They play a crucial role in capturing, presenting and communicating a party’s organized thinking. It is a tool that ideally allows for accountability in political party systems. In organized systems, where political parties are anchored on sound structures and crafted along strong ideological foundation, manifestos form part of the tools and platforms via which the parties are able to engage with the electorate through definite and clear elucidation of standpoints on various political, economic and social issues that are of paramount importance to the country. Their visibility and utility materialize during elections, whereby they enable the electorate to delineate their choices from a cocktail of alternatives.
In Kenya, the Constitution of Kenya, 2010 (COK, 2010) seeks to streamline political parties within the country’s governance ecosystem. Articles 91 and 92 provide for, among other things, a basic regime guiding responsible governance of political parties, including composition, leadership and principles. The Political Parties Act, 2011 further seeks to entrench effective management of political parties. Specifically, with regard to party documentations, Section 17 (1) (c) provides that: ‘A political party shall maintain at its head office and at each of its county office in the prescribed form, an accurate and authentic record of… a copy of the policies and plans of the political party.’ Besides, the Constitution establishes central values that bind every person and entity within the country’s bounds. Article 10 of the COK, 2010 provides, among other things, that ‘(T)he national values and principles of governance include good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability.’
Despite the robust and revolutionary legal provisions, the effectiveness of party manifestos, as tools of accountability and good governance in the political space remains a challenge in Kenya. The situation was borne out by the findings of a recent study that was commissioned by Mzalendo Trust. The study revealed that political parties/coalitions do not make explicit references to the manifestos in their legislative agenda, and largely disregard them immediately after elections. For instance, the ruling Jubilee Party’s (JP) legislative agenda has thus far been influenced by the government’s priority areas, rather than an exploration of the ideas in the 2017 manifesto. Moreover, the report established that the political parties/coalitions’ negation of their manifestos is enabled by their lack of strong ideological positioning. Kenya’s political outcomes are influenced by ethnicity, personalities, and other considerations, rather than policy positions. If party manifestos are to optimally play their role, then stakeholders, duty bearers and other actors have a role to play. Parliament, media, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), political parties and the Office of Registrar of Political Parties (ORPP), among others have an inevitable duty to play toward extracting success out of party manifestos.