The Jubilee Party now runs the risk of implosion following unprecedented infighting among key officials. The five years of internal stability that Jubilee has enjoyed are better appreciated if it is recalled that there emerged public grumbling among members of Narc as soon as they won the 2002 election, with things worsening all the time until the coalition collapsed after three years.
So what accounts for the relatively long stability in Jubilee? And what has now changed that has opened Jubilee to the kind of bickering it had so successfully avoided up now?
To answer these questions, a comparison is necessary between the factors that drove the formation of Narc and those that led to the founding of Jubilee later. What became Narc was a grand political alliance that needed to be big enough to ensure there would be no room to dispute its victory at the polls, against the then ruling party Kanu. Both the Narc and Jubilee coalitions were highly improbable. The former was unlikely because in the previous two elections, in 1992 and 1997, a divided opposition had handed easy victories to Kanu. It is the fact that opposition unity had been so elusive in the previous two elections that made Narc in 2002 unlikely.
The formation of the Jubilee coalition seemed unlikely for different reasons. First, the core supporters of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto, the two coalition leaders, had been on opposing sides in the post-election violence which was then even more recent, and whose effects were still fresh. How could core supporters who had recently been adversaries in a bitter conflict be organised into a winning electorate?
The second reason why a Kenyatta-Ruto alliance was improbable was also the reason why the two came together: the common threat of the cases before the International Criminal Court in which they were defendants.
If the ICC cases undermined the individual credibility of Kenyatta and Ruto as presidential candidates, combining forces in a joint presidential ticket could only surely concentrate their individual limitations into intolerable proportions.
Because the ICC cases had made a Kenyatta-Ruto ticket seem doubtful, the adversity of those cases became the basis for justifying the coalition and, once Jubilee was in power, the oxygen for its daily survival.
As long as the cases lasted, high levels of party discipline were mandatory. To increase their appeal, the founders of Narc needed to show that they were different from Kanu and ended up establishing a principled platform for their campaign which, once in power, became a source of pressure to govern responsibly. Its different motivations meant that Jubilee had a different deal with the electorate: Jubilee had asked the electorate to give its leaders control of the Kenyan state so that the two could use it for the defence of their ICC cases. In return, the electorate would get shiny toys like stadiums and laptops.
Having never promised to govern well, Jubilee did not suffer comparable pressure to do as did Narc.
While the collapse of the cases created opportunity for a relaxation of party discipline, Jubilee nevertheless remained a tight ship and there is a reason for that. Following the collapse of the cases and never having had an agenda on governance, Jubilee’s next agenda was to retain power in the subsequent elections in 2017 and this needed party discipline.
As Ruto is now finding out, retaining power last year may have been the last shared objective between him and Kenyatta, who has since started exploring possibilities that exclude Ruto.
The question now is what to expect next after the apparent fallout in Jubilee.Contrary to some assessments, the relationship between Kenyatta and Ruto has not broken down irretrievably. Rather, through his dalliance with Raila Odinga, Kenyatta is testing the limits that his relationship with Rutoimposes on him.
It is unclear what assumptions inform Kenyatta’s experimentation. Does he, for example, expect that Ruto will fight back and if so, what is Kenyatta’s understanding of the worst that Ruto can do? Does Kenyatta fear Ruto’s worst? On his part, by organising such a resolute reaction against Kenyatta’s actions, Ruto seeks an immediate end to Kenyatta’s experimentation, by increasing the political cost of the president’s actions.
Other than the uncharacteristically public nature of the squabbling in Jubilee, there are two other points of surprise. The first is the timing. It is still early days: open succession wars usually happen nearer the next elections. Secondly, the Ruto corner has demonstrated great audacity in its fightback. Because it is still so early, Kenyatta is not yet a lame duck and given the cards that he is playing, he seems to expect that he will remain potent in the next elections.
The show of strength by Ruto against a president that is still so early in his term is a message by Ruto that, whatever the circumstances, he will not turn the other cheek.
- The writer is the Executive Director at KHRC. [email protected]