By Lillian Aluanga - Delvaux
The season of colourful party launches has returned with the flashy entry onto the political scene by The National Alliance party.
From the state-of-the-art screens, teleprompters, live streams via the Internet and satellite launches in several towns, the launch at KICC, Nairobi, was characteristic of events that gained popularity since 2007.
The launch, two weeks ago, also ended speculation over what party Deputy Prime Minister Uhuru Kenyatta would use to run for the presidency. That public relations and big spending have become critical aspects of campaigns is no secret, as has the more recent use of technology to capture segments of the electorate that are IT -savvy.
Many presidential aspirants have incorporated the use of social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter to reach out to the electorate. The latest use of such technology was by Gichugu MP Martha Karua, who recently held a press conference via Twitter. But just what is informing the thinking behind the colourful party events — an idea borrowed from the US model of presidential campaign launches?
“We are coming of age politically from a time when institutions of parties remained largely absent even though we were in a multi-party democracy,” says Safina Secretary General Cyprian Nyamwamu. He refers to the Political Parties Act 2011 and a changing political landscape, which have seen aspirants jostle for space within their parties, hence a heightened drive for visibility among those seeking higher office.
“Aspirants have now realised the importance of branding and building structures for their campaigns. Often, this begins with the official declaration that one is running for the presidency if they are to be considered key players in the political process,” he says.
The pattern of holding colourful launches picked up in the run up to the 2007 poll, with President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, and VP Kalonzo Musyoka holding colourful events to officially mark their entry into the presidential race.
Besides Uhuru, other aspirants who have made known parties on whose tickets they will be seeking the presidential ticket on, albeit at less lavish events, include Gichugu MP Martha Karua (Narc-Kenya), former Rarieda MP Raphael Tuju (Party Of Action) and Eldoret North MP William Ruto (United Republican Party).
While venues for the launches may differ, the scripts are similar, with banners, T-shirts, caps emblazoned in party colours and entertainment by popular artistes forming part of the activities. Keynote speeches are often delivered by those viewed as the flag bearers of the party, an aspect which some analysts say has drawn a thin line between political party and presidential campaign launches.
“Some politicians have been referring to these events as political party launches when in essence they are launching presidential bids. If it was really about the party then we would see more of the party officials taking centre stage, with say the party chairman making the keynote speech,” says lawyer Harun Ndubi.