Deputy President and UDA presidential candidate William Ruto is banking on his new strategy of signing charters with segmented interest groups to lock group votes as the race for State House gets tighter.
Hot on the heels of his earlier strategy of regional economic forums, Ruto’s charter approach, sources say, is calculated to “increase the surface area for netting hustler agenda support to its volume ratio”.
The charters, complemented by the ordinary campaign rhetoric and promises, are also engineered to grant ownership to the Kenya Kwanza manifesto, expected to be launched later this week. In the past few months, the Deputy President in the company of robed and bewigged lawyers has charmed various interest groups, including youth and women, enticing them into signing agreements he calls charters that spell out issues he promises to deliver if he wins the August 9 General Election.
“We have come to sit with you so that we agree on priorities. We want the priorities written in charters so that we have an agreement between the Kenya Kwanza government and Makueni residents. We want to keep our commitment and be held to account,” Dr Ruto said during a rally in Makueni earlier in the month.
While the name ‘charter’ sounds novel in Kenya’s political lingo, it is not exactly a new approach. In 2007, Ruto and his presidential candidate Raila Odinga, who is now the Azimio la Umoja-One Kenya Coalition flag bearer, used it to net the Muslim vote.
In 2013, Ruto also mobilised for the United Republican Party on a pastoralist agenda, although he did not sign a specific charter with them.
Former Law Society of Kenya President and UDA Westlands constituency candidate, Nelson Havi, says that the charters are a new tool to hold UDA leadership to account, as well as a new avenue for people participation in governance and formulation of policies.
“Essentially, a charter is a policy decision,” said Mr Havi. “You can file a constitutional petition to enforce this charter and get a declaration.”
Havi, who led a group of lawyers allied to him to Ruto’s side, says charters give the citizens powers to outline their priority areas of development and hence save resources in the best interest of the country.
“The Constitution gives any Kenyan the right to ensure that pledges in the charter are upheld. It’s our agreement with the people, our social contract. Once we are elected, we are answerable to the people and they are at liberty to seek their (charters) enforcement.”
Constitutional lawyer Bobby Mkangi, however, believes the whole charter business is “nothing much more than political optics of a side that wants to position itself as different”. He says failure to meet the pledges will have no legal repercussions.
“The consequences of not meeting the promises in the charter are more political than legal. The people can only hold them accountable on the basis of their word,” said Mr Mkangi.
Lawyer and Azimio blogger Wahome Thuku agrees. He says charters are “mere political agreements” which do not give Kenyans any power to legally hold the party or leaders accountable for the promises made.
“There is no constitutional basis where a party is supposed to sign an agreement with people. It’s basically a gentleman’s agreement,” said Mr Thuku.
He further explains that for something to be legally binding, it has to be anchored on a provision in the law or signed between legally recognised parties that have the capacity to enter into those agreements.
“The groups they are signing with are not legally recognised, and are nothing like formal groups such as Mandeleo ya Wanawake,” he argued.
But legality aside, the whole charter business has been a highly visual affair. The spectre of interest groups meeting to discuss their issues, and robed lawyers overseeing the signing, has added a new flair to conduct of politics away from the rhetoric of rallies.
So far, Kenya Kwanza has health, education, women and youth charters, together with those signed with individual counties.
In the education sector, the charters spell out intentions to bridge the 116,000 teacher deficit in public schools within two financial years by employing 58,000 teachers yearly, among other things.
The youth have been promised 30 per cent of all appointive positions in government, a HELB repayment grace period until a graduate gets employed, and the passing of a creative economy Bill in the first 100 days if the alliance forms the next government.
While signing the women’s charter, Ruto committed that an agency will be formed to directly cater to women’s issues. “The agency, which will be domiciled at the Office of the President, will be led by a female official. This official will also be sitting in the Cabinet.”