Tuesday, 25 April 2017

Party Nominations Are a Reflection of Kenya’s Political Culture

Police officers providing security during a party nomination exercise in Mombasa.
Courtesy: Daily Nation
The electioneering period in Kenya is usually an interesting and eventful moment but how interesting it is solely remains to be a function of either one’s apolitical nature or level of political consciousness. Bearing the apolitical attitude is a dangerous precedence and a risky affair that not only undermines our Republic’s Constitution, in view of the responsibilities accorded to the citizens, but also jeopardizes the institutionalization of a moral and visionary political leadership for our state.

That a moderate and high level of political consciousness will translate to the establishment of a better political leadership is a fact and not a reverie basing on the political trajectories adopted by the polities that are perceived as democratic around the world. The electorate should exercise political consciousness at all times and not at certain times as it is the case for Kenya. This noble consciousness needs to take root right from the operations/activities of the political parties and should not just be exercised at the national political level.

Fast forward, the last few days have been crucial for the political parties with respect to the nomination exercise. As anticipated, the process has been characterized with incidences of violence, logistical challenges and other electoral malpractices such as rigging. The occurrence of the aforementioned activities is a pointer that there still exists an institutional as well as organizational weakness in view of the structural mapping of political parties in Kenya. One may argue out that a number of political parties have conducted their nominations in a peaceful manner but such a postulation is ignorant of the reality that defines and describes Kenya’s political architecture. What then is this reality?

To begin with, parties that manage to conduct their nominations without any cases of rigging, logistical challenges or chaos are not largely popular. Case in point, the nominations of the Orange Democratic Movement and the Jubilee Party of Kenya. It follows then that parties which conduct the primaries seamlessly are political outfits that are popular just within some political circles with their overarching feature being a narrow political base however significant this may turn out to be.

The party nominations present lessons and insight on the underlying fundamentals that guide and govern the politics practiced in the Republic of Kenya. It is therefore a perfect illustration of the “part” representing the “whole.” The political craziness and madness that grips the parties is a further representation of the values that are embraced by the political leadership of this state. The genesis of these shenanigans that are now becoming a permanent feature for the parties is the form and way in which these political parties are formed and how they operate. In one of the articles that I penned last year, I clearly argued on the ideological deficiency syndrome that affects political parties in the Kenyan polity.

Head of Jubilee Party Secretariat, Raphael Tuju, at a press conference.
Image: Courtesy
Political parties in Kenya are established based on the interests of personalities and not on the supreme agenda of the citizens. As a consequence, we have parties that only serve as special purpose vehicles and can be folded up at any point in time which proves to be a critical juncture. From the outset, therefore, it can be noticed that the mode of formation of the parties is one of the intrinsic weaknesses. Since political parties are centred on personalities, it implies that their operations are funded by individuals who are close associates of the parties’ bigwigs. In addition, this also means that the parties’ rank and file comprises of the people who have good “connections” with the parties high and mighty irrespective of how irredeemably incompetent they may be.

Rigging of the party nominations and other stage-managed antics and activities occur because most of the Governors and other incumbent politicians are some of the main financiers of the political parties. How then do you expect an individual who has been largely financing the party to “lose” the nominations? Logically, in the Kenyan political context it cannot work. The delays in the starting of the voting exercise in the party primaries and other logistical challenges that have been reported are some of the antics that have been stage-managed by the political parties to create apathy among the voters so that the preferred candidates carry the day. Even the parties’ high and mighty are well aware of this scheme.

Consequences & the Future
Chaotic and shambolic party primaries informed the decision by some of the aspirants to decamp to the political parties which are perceived as safe bets while a significant number of those who seemed to be confident of their parties but were rigged out have opted to contest as independent candidates in the forthcoming general elections.

ODM Elections Board chairperson Judith Pareno and commissioner Ismael Aden.
Courtesy: The Star
Going into the future, there will be a paradigm shift and change of Kenya’s political architecture based on two factors. Firstly, if parties are not going to conduct their nominations in a manner that is organized then we should expect that the number of independent candidates in the subsequent elections will increase. In fact, even in this year’s general elections, the number of independent candidates is going to be higher when compared to the 2013 general election. I therefore presuppose that at least there will be one candidate or so elected as a Governor with a good number elected as Members of Parliament and the County Assemblies.

Secondly, there will be an increase in the formation of new parties with their party leaders being mostly the Governors. The subsequent elections will witness an increased number of the small but strategic parties led by a number of Governors. This scenario will be more evident if the major political parties do not embrace sobriety with regard to the conduction of the nominations. The 2017 general election will present an opportunity for these small but strategic parties to have their candidates elected in all the political positions except the presidency.

Political Party Reformations
Despite the fact that the Kenyan polity is a fledgling multi-party democracy, there is need to ensure that reforms are carried out to inject some significant degree of proper organization and sobriety within the structures of the political parties. The reforms should effectively address and cover the following issues:
  • Amending the Political Parties Act to ensure that parties within the Republic of Kenya are citizen-based and not centred around personalities. 
  • Recruiting competent and qualified staff at the secretariats of the respective political parties.
  •  Instituting capacity building and development programmes for the officials who conduct the party primaries. This should be done on a continuous basis and not just three days or one week before the nominations as it is currently carried out.
  • Ensuring that parties have updated databases of their party members so that only the bonafide members participate in the nominations.

The political parties ought to adopt the institutional model of running their activities and not the current dispensation which fashions a lot of mediocrity because it is primarily based on a short-term agenda. The institutional model focuses on the long-term by helping to nurture competent political leaders and in shaping the policy debate of the country’s path to economic development as well as structural transformation. Strong and mature political parties beget a vibrant and mature democracy.

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