Kenya is a multi-party democracy with a vibrant political culture but lacking in one ingredient that makes democratic consolidation a mirage; the inability to sustain political parties beyond a five-year electoral cycle.
In Kenya, political parties are cobbled up in the run-up to a General Election and act as special purpose vehicles which quickly decline and outlive their purpose once elections are over. The idea of democratic consolidation suggests a durable and functional state to the extent that a return to a non-democratic state is no longer viable with a strong multi-party political system being key to its achievement.
And whereas Kenya has hundreds of political parties, majority are moribund, briefcase parties with those that have strong following still lacking an ideological base and only surviving courtesy of personalities and ethnic bloc mobilization. Generally, Kenyan political parties are transient and cannot effectively influence meaningful national conversations especially across multiple electoral cycles.
This varies from mature civil democracies where political parties that have national character, history and ideology strongly influence national political and development trajectories.
They are transcendent parties which outlive personalities and electoral cycles and like strong ships in the high seas, they easily withstand the turbulent waters of competitive politics.
These parties have entrenched themselves as part of the national identity of their nations so much so that the mere mention of their names automatically conjures the name of their countries. African examples include ANC; South Africa, FRELIMO; Mozambique and CCM; Tanzania.
This is not the case for Kenya, after the widely hailed 2002 Rainbow Revolution became the proverbial devourer of its own children and claimed the country’s grand old party KANU, every successive election since then has been won by a different political party even in instances where the same presidential candidate was on the ballot for a second time.
This ephemeral nature of political parties in Kenya has made it impossible for them to influence national policy directions because when they are discarded, they go together with their values and manifestos forcing Kenyans to restart the development process afresh again and again.
And so if Kenya is to realise democratic deepening where political party affairs continue beyond elections, then we must go back to the basics and focus on strengthening individual political parties.
It is the height of folly to subject Kenyans to gruelling campaigns where parties outdo each other in selling their manifestos which are then discarded and forgotten as soon as elections are over.
Prudent political manners dictates that the winning party takes a front row seat in the national development process and ensures that its manifesto is implemented for national benefit.
Kenya has finalised the 2017 General Election with President Uhuru Kenyatta securing re-election. This is Uhuru’s Legacy Term and to guide it, he has identified four pillars in his Big Four Agenda which is extracted from the Jubilee Party Manifesto.
The success of this plan, however, requires active party involvement in its implementation and it is probably because of the urge to secure his four- point legacy that Mr Kenyatta co-opted the Party’s Secretary General to Cabinet on need basis.
Raphael Tuju becomes only the second Kenyan to be a Cabinet Secretary without portfolio. The first Kenyan was Chunilal Madan in 1956.
This is a new phenomenon for Kenyans and it follows from precedents and traditions in other countries like the UK, India, New Zealand, Tanzania and Zambia.
This is a form of political re-engineering to situate the ruling party at the heart of national decision making and policy formulation. It is a best practice which shall not only cure the challenge of political party exclusion from national development processes but it shall also address the challenge of post-election redundancy which many parties experience by making them active day to day participants in the management of the affairs of the nation.
This precedent setting appointment shall also have the positive unintended consequence of making other parties which are keen on forming government to borrow from it and continue with the same trend if they attain state power.
Kenyans shall also begin to take political parties seriously and desire to participate in its leadership processes and the overall net effect in the long term being a strengthening of political parties through their continuous meaningful engagement beyond elections.
With transcendent parties rising above cyclic electoral periods, tribal cocooning and personalities, Kenya shall join the ranks of states that have attained democratic deepening and consolidation.
Mr Kipkulei is a Senior Associate Consultant at Sovereign Insight Ltd. [email protected]