Why we Must Urgently Rethink the Place of Political Parties in Kenya

The Par­ty of Nation­al Uni­ty (PNU); Unit­ed Repub­li­can Par­ty (URP); Ford Asili; The Nation­al Alliance (TNA). These were major par­ties in pre­vi­ous elec­tions but are cur­rent­ly part of our polit­i­cal par­ties grave­yard yet their lead­ers remain active in oth­er polit­i­cal outfits.

This begs the ques­tions – are polit­i­cal par­ties mere spe­cial pur­pose vehi­cles for elections?

In this year’s elec­tion, 49 polit­i­cal par­ties out of 98 reg­is­tered par­ties secured elec­tive posi­tions. Our Par­ty – the Green Think­ing Action Par­ty (GTAP) – was among them. It is incum­bent on these par­ties to con­tin­ue engag­ing their mem­bers systematically.

Accord­ing to Sec­tion 23 of the Polit­i­cal Par­ties Act, the Polit­i­cal Par­ties Fund forms the basis for financ­ing polit­i­cal par­ties in Kenya. Con­se­quent­ly, qual­i­fy­ing par­ties are large­ly fund­ed by tax­pay­ers. That’s why they must be ful­ly account­able to Kenyans. This account­abil­i­ty also applies to small­er polit­i­cal par­ties that don’t qual­i­fy to receive Gov­ern­ment funds. After all, they exist because of their mem­ber­ship. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, red flags abound in this account­abil­i­ty space.

Unde­ni­ably, most Kenyans have no clue about the ide­ol­o­gy of their polit­i­cal par­ty, yet these are the deep-seat­ed set of beliefs that must be lived and seen in leg­isla­tive pri­or­i­ties of the party.

Polit­i­cal par­ties must there­fore lay out leg­isla­tive agen­das that are in sync with their ide­olo­gies, not just their ever-chang­ing manifestos.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly, many of Kenya’s reg­is­tered 98 par­ties lack defin­ing ide­olo­gies. In fact, a good per­cent­age of these par­ties were formed with the express pur­pose of being sold at a prof­it to aspir­ing politi­cians. But before we cast a stone at such par­ties, we must look hard in the mir­ror and dis­cern the logs in the eyes of our own pre­ferred par­ties. If they are not trib­al group­ings, they are prob­a­bly under the exclu­sive con­trol of par­ty lead­ers and a select few.

Are the small­er par­ties becom­ing part of the prob­lem by not dis­solv­ing and join­ing larg­er par­ties to strength­en them from with­in? That would be a viable route if the so-called larg­er par­ties were not under the exclu­sive con­trol of their lead­ers. Unfor­tu­nate­ly many of these small­er par­ties end up embrac­ing those same unde­mo­c­ra­t­ic prac­tices. In this regard, we must all take respon­si­bil­i­ty for our country’s sor­ry polit­i­cal par­ty culture.

In addi­tion to par­ty lead­ers and offi­cials, par­ty mem­bers too must take respon­si­bil­i­ty. As of March this year, at least 24 mil­lion Kenyans were reg­is­tered polit­i­cal par­ty mem­bers. Out of these, 64 per cent were men while women con­sti­tut­ed 36 per cent. These mem­bers should be the real own­ers of their polit­i­cal par­ties. They must infuse ide­ol­o­gy, trans­paren­cy and account­abil­i­ty into their respec­tive polit­i­cal par­ties. As long as they remain pas­sive, par­ty lead­ers will keep using them for polit­i­cal relevance.

In the same vein, par­ty offices should not just exist for the sake of inspec­tion by the Office of the reg­is­trar of polit­i­cal par­ties (ORPP). Rather, they should meta­mor­phose into hubs of rel­e­vant pos­i­tive com­mu­ni­ty activ­i­ties at the grass­roots lev­el. This can be fur­ther rein­forced through reg­u­lar, demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty elec­tions for all office bear­ers from the nation­al lev­el to the Ward level.

In the words of for­mer Pres­i­dent Moi, “Siasa ni Maisha, siasa mbaya, maisha mbaya.” Because polit­i­cal par­ties are the nerve cen­ters of orga­nized pol­i­tics, it fol­lows that bad polit­i­cal par­ties beget a low qual­i­ty of life for the cit­i­zen­ry. That’s why chang­ing our polit­i­cal par­ty cul­ture must be an urgent, last­ing pri­or­i­ty. This involves chang­ing our per­cep­tions of polit­i­cal engage­ment. Cur­rent­ly, polit­i­cal actors are regard­ed in the cor­po­rate world as high risk or Polit­i­cal­ly Exposed Per­sons (PEP) who should not hold cer­tain offices or lead ini­tia­tives, yet these same insti­tu­tions that covert­ly fund polit­i­cal activ­i­ties. Its time for this hypocrisy to stop. Being polit­i­cal­ly active should be cel­e­brat­ed, not demo­nized. 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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