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Jubilee Party death should be warning to ODM and UDA

Jubilee party secretary general Jeremiah Kioni speaking during a press conference at the jubilee headquarters in Nairobi. [Esther Jeruto, Standard]

The epic collapse of Jubilee Party should be a warning to the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) and the United Democratic Alliance (UDA).

Being our only truly national parties, the two face a future defined by the longevity test that many previous parties failed – including the once might Baba na Mama party, Kanu.

Will they remain national? What will be the predominant pattern of their mobilisational strategies?

Jubilee’s history can help answer these questions. When it was launched in 2016, many thought the party was here to stay.

After President Uhuru Kenyatta’s re-election in 2017, Deputy President William Ruto would take over and run it over his own two terms in office (2022-2032).

The dissolution of multiple briefcase and ethnic parties further bolstered Jubilee’s national image, thereby buttressing its claims to longevity.

However, the honeymoon did not last. Fissures in the party emerged right after nominations were concluded in April 2017, with the Mbele Iko Sawa and UhuRuto Express factions battling out for supremacy.

The two factions later morphed into the Tangatanga and Kieleweke factions, respectively.

From the outset, Jubilee faced two main challenges. First, it lacked proper grassroots mobilisation and machine politics.

The lack of strong links to the party meant that, for most supporters, it did not pay to belong to Jubilee.

Second, it lacked a coherent mission. Ruto considered it a vehicle for enforcing Kenyatta’s alleged promise to back him in 2022. Kenyatta merely wanted to win the 2017 election.

Ruto’s effective takeover of the party during the 2017 nominations aggravated this incongruity.

Among other things, this led to the fallout that became hard to hide beginning in early 2018 and culminated in Jubilee’s collapse in 2022.  

If interested in building strong inter-generational parties, ODM and UDA must internalise these two lessons highlighted by Jubilee’s demise.

Parties are likely to survive if they give their supporters a material reason to stick with them and if party elites agree on the mission and general rules of upward mobility through the ranks.

The writer is an Assistant Professor at Georgetown University