Leadership, News

We‌ ‌Should‌ ‌Finally‌ ‌Make‌ ‌Political‌ ‌Parties‌ ‌Count‌ ‌in‌ ‌2022

Exact­ly twen­ty years ago in Decem­ber 1991, Kenya became a mul­ti-par­ty democ­ra­cy. Before then, we were a one-par­ty State with KANU the rul­ing par­ty call­ing all the polit­i­cal shots. Records from The reg­is­trar of Polit­i­cal Par­ties show that Kenya has 83 reg­is­tered polit­i­cal par­ties which is a sharp con­trast from Tanzania’s 22 par­ties, Uganda’s 26, and Rwanda’s 11, although RPF, the rul­ing par­ty, is the pre­dom­i­nant play­er. How­ev­er, does Kenya’s high­er quan­ti­ty of par­ties trans­late to a bet­ter qual­i­ty of life for her citizens? 

Although many of the par­ties in Kenya have man­i­festos, their defin­ing ide­olo­gies are anyone’s guess. We do not know for instance, which par­ty has seized the niche of women empow­er­ment and how it defines women empow­er­ment. We also do not know which par­ty has staked its very exis­tence on youth empow­er­ment. Indeed, it is almost impos­si­ble to pin­point which par­ties are left-wing, cen­trist, or right-wing. What we do know is that every elec­tion cycle, new par­ties are formed to act as spe­cial polit­i­cal pur­pose vehi­cles of pres­i­den­tial can­di­dates. In sub­se­quent elec­tions, some of these par­ties are then aban­doned for new­er out­fits. It’s no won­der that although mil­lions of Kenyans joined or mere­ly found them­selves as mem­bers of polit­i­cal par­ties, very few of them were dri­ven by ide­o­log­i­cal rea­sons to join these parties.

In the US, the ide­o­log­i­cal divide between the Democ­rats and Repub­li­cans is as clear as night and day. Repub­li­cans are pro-life while Democ­rats are pro-choice. Sim­ply put, this means that Democ­rats sup­port abor­tion while Repub­li­cans do not. Such a clear ide­o­log­i­cal and sub­stan­tive divide doesn’t exist in Kenyan par­ties. They are large­ly dif­fer­en­ti­at­ed by their respec­tive pres­i­den­tial candidates.

I ful­ly agree with the sen­ti­ments of Nyeri Catholic Arch­bish­op Antho­ny Muhe­ria when he termed the tragedy as ‘need­less and incom­pre­hen­si­ble.’ Indeed, all Kitui res­i­dents know that sea­son­al rivers flood dur­ing heavy rains. When this hap­pens, numer­ous bridges are over­run. This leads to loss of life, albeit not at the Enz­iu Riv­er scale. The Nation­al and Coun­ty Gov­ern­ments also know this. Unlike res­i­dents who can­not build bridges with their bare hands, the two Gov­ern­ments have the capa­bil­i­ty of build­ing strong, mod­ern bridges. 

How can we build sym­bol­ic, rec­on­cil­ia­to­ry bridges if we can’t even build actu­al con­crete bridges for the mil­lions of Kenyans in the low­er east­ern region? Is build­ing a bridge too expen­sive for the Gov­ern­ment to afford? No. The Infra­struc­ture Prin­ci­pal Sec­re­tary Paul Maringa con­firmed recent­ly that the Gov­ern­ment will con­struct a prop­er Shs30-mil­lion bridge across Enz­iu Riv­er. Why wasn’t this done ear­li­er, not just across this riv­er but many oth­ers that also don’t have prop­er bridges across them? This ques­tion can­not be wished away.

If our democ­ra­cy is to mature and serve the needs of Kenyans, there is a need for a new awak­en­ing of polit­i­cal par­ties.  Based on the apa­thy of Kenyans in join­ing polit­i­cal par­ties, it is fair to say that the rela­tion­ship between democ­ra­cy and polit­i­cal par­ties is strained at best and com­plete­ly bro­ken at worst. 

This trou­bled rela­tion­ship between polit­i­cal par­ties and democ­ra­cy is not unique to Kenya. In the US, the two-par­ty sys­tem seems to cre­ate more stale­mates than break­throughs. As a result, two-thirds of Amer­i­cans now think that Amer­i­ca needs a third par­ty. In Israel, the par­ties are so splin­tered and polar­ized that there have been four elec­tions in two years. In France, peo­ple became so dis­il­lu­sioned with the two major polit­i­cal par­ties that Emmanuel Macron, Par­ty Leader of the new­ly formed La République En Marche! Par­ty won the Presidency.

Against this back­drop, Kenya’s polit­i­cal par­ties must under­take intense self-eval­u­a­tion. More impor­tant­ly, Kenyans must hold these par­ties account­able. Inter­est­ing­ly, small­er par­ties can lead the way. They can edu­cate the mass­es on their ide­olo­gies and front can­di­dates who advo­cate and live these ide­olo­gies. If they do so, the elec­torate will have clear choic­es between prin­ci­pled lead­ers and those who will say any­thing to get elect­ed. If even a frac­tion of these prin­ci­pled lead­ers makes it to par­lia­ment, the char­ac­ter of par­lia­ment will begin to change. In this regard, polit­i­cal par­ties have a crit­i­cal role to play in Kenya’s demo­c­ra­t­ic journey. 

The birth of mul­ti-par­ty­ism twen­ty years ago was sup­posed to dras­ti­cal­ly expand rep­re­sen­ta­tion. With mul­ti­ple polit­i­cal par­ties com­pet­ing for lim­it­ed elec­tive posi­tions, the hope was that there would be greater rep­re­sen­ta­tion and greater inclu­sion. But that hasn’t hap­pened. For instance, small­hold­er farm­ers are in worse off posi­tions than before as are cof­fee farm­ers and tea farm­ers. These farm­ers didn’t find bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion from polit­i­cal par­ties just like the Boda Bods sec­tor with its mil­lions of stakeholders.

If polit­i­cal par­ties want to enjoy more wide­spread sup­port from Kenyans, they must ensure much bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion of Kenyans in the polit­i­cal process.

In addi­tion to enhanc­ing bet­ter rep­re­sen­ta­tion, polit­i­cal par­ties must also hold the three lev­els of Gov­ern­ment account­able. They should do so on behalf of their mem­ber­ship. In this regard, polit­i­cal par­ties should not com­plain about the ills afflict­ing our soci­ety. They should instead employ polit­i­cal tools to tack­le those ills. Think green, act green.

About Dr. Kalua Green

He is the Chief Stew­ard of Green Africa Group, a con­glom­er­ate that was envi­sioned in 1991 to con­nect, pro­duce and impact var­i­ous aspi­ra­tions of human­i­ty through Sus­tain­able Mobil­i­ty & Safe­ty Solu­tions, Eco­pre­neur­ship & Agribusi­ness, Ship­ping & Logis­tics, Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Ini­tia­tives, as well as Hos­pi­tal­i­ty & fur­nish­ings sectors

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