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Ideological political parties promote democractic ideals

By Makau Mutua | Published Sun, July 31st 2016 at 00:00, Updated July 30th 2016 at 22:22 GMT +3
Prof Makau Mutua

Whether we like it or not political parties are an indispensable facet of a modern democracy. That’s why a state shouldn’t treat parties like shirts — to be changed at the proverbial drop of a hat. Great political parties can’t be decreed or wished into existence. They must evolve with the political culture, economy and social mores of the people and country. But “evolution” isn’t a completely organic process. Elites can engineer the organic evolution of a political culture. After all, political parties reflect the intellectual aspirations and political attributes of an elite. In Kenya, we haven’t had real political parties since the early republic. The question is what has retarded the growth of a political party culture.

First, I believe Kenya lacks a purposeful elite. I don’t mean that the Kenyan elite doesn’t have a purpose for its existence. Like elites everywhere, Kenya’s top dogs are interested in their own self-preservation. Nothing wrong with that. Except self-preservation isn’t a national interest, or a noble purpose. I have written before, and will reiterate here that no people, state, country, or civilisation has ever become great without a great and purposeful elite. A purposeful elite defines the national interest and then forges the people’s zeitgeist to that end. There has to be convergence between the interests of the elite and those of the nation. Dissonance and divergence between the two creates infertility in all aspects of national life.

Second, national elites study and understand the history of great civilisations. It’s through such study and reflection that elites create consensus on the purpose for the existence of the state. This requires deliberate investment in think-tanks, universities, and secret government programmes designed to foster high-minded agendas. It may even involve the creation of national syndicates beyond the visible eye. Take China, for example. The People’s Republic didn’t just spring from nowhere to become a global behemoth. Another example is Israel. How a tiny country surrounded by states seeking its annihilation has dominated the Middle East is an object lesson about a purposeful elite. And of course, I can’t forget strongman Lee Kwan Yew’s Singapore. Do our elites care to study the history of great powers? Third, the most purposeful elites try to know everything about their people. This knowledge has a purpose. It’s to digest and categorise a nation’s — a people’s — strengths and weaknesses. Especially important to understand is a nation’s weaknesses. That’s because a state can’t become great unless it eliminates, or cuts down, on its weaknesses. Here, one must study the cultural attributes of the people.

Do they have a work ethic? Are they competitive? Do they like organisation? What types of authority and order do they respond to? What are the nation’s weaknesses — bad weather, tough topography, small population, or an unschooled population? You then build national projects to exploit your strengths and limit the weaknesses. Add the former and subtract the latter.

Fourth, the elite must commit to one basic fact —that the state can’t afford to waste, or destroy, even one citizen. That means tracking and giving every child an opportunity to realise her potential. The reason why China has become a global hegemon — and India hasn’t — is because the latter has consigned hundreds of millions of its own people in a caste system. Imagine a population larger than the United States being illiterate. A state can’t lock such large populations out of full citizenship and hope to truly become great. It can create billionaires and even become competitive internationally, but it will never become truly great unless it does away with the caste system. We can’t deviate from the fact that every human being counts.

Fifth, in modern society, the political party is the anvil on which the national interest is defined. That’s because it’s through the party that elites are delegated the sovereign power of the people. That’s why the political party shouldn’t be an empty husk for individual politicians to seek and keep political power. Nor should the political party be organised to pit one identity against another, exploit the ignorance of the people, or prey on their fears by fostering false consciousness about group identity. Regionalism is a dead end. The tribe as an organising pivot is a poisoned chalice. In such a state, the elite loot the public purse and steal the morality of the people. That’s not the Kenya we want.

Finally, the genius of the 2010 Constitution wasn’t in the bare provisions of the law. What’s most important are the values underlying the Constitution. The spirit of the Constitution is the mojo that brings it to life and makes it a living document. On the question of the national and the political identity of the state, the Constitution is clear — ideology and people are at the centre.

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