By Priscilla Nyokabi and Audrey Wabwire
Political parties form one of the pillars in democratic society. They allow people who share common values on leadership to seek positions with strategies that are close to their shared beliefs. They organise the democratic system and ease the election process.
Before independence, visionaries like Harry Thuku of Kenya African Union (KAU) and Ronald Ngala’s Kenya African Democratic Union (Kadu) knew that through parties they could steer the country to greater heights. They used nationalist associations to seek representation. As the names of their parties suggest, in that period, unity of Africans was vital in the movement for better representation of Africans in Parliament.
Kenya was a one-party state until the first multi-party election in 1992, which saw an explosion of parties. Again, we can read the political mood of the time from the names of the parties. The Forum for Restoration of Democracy (Ford) and Democratic Party (DP) were inspiring names. The parties advocated for better democratic systems under an authoritarian regime. These are examples of good choices in political party names.
Kanu ruled until 2002 when the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) came to power. This must be when the rain started to beat us. Suffice to note that the name rainbow suggested diversity – the people who led this party came from all over Kenya. This was significant since politics in Kenya has been tribal, usually perpetuated by the political class. Kenyans were impressed to see these same leaders give up their tribal politics and speak in one voice, history in the making. A rainbow signified better days ahead.
Narc union soon bore several children: Narc-Kenya, Orange Democratic Party (ODM), and Party of National Unity (PNU), among others.
The ODM broke away from Narc after the 2005 referendum when Kenyans voted on whether or not to adopt a draft of a new constitution. Those for the draft voted ‘yes’ symbolised by a banana while those against it voted ‘no’ symbolised by an orange. The majority voted against the draft. The orange ‘won’ and formed ODM. What if the banana side also formed a party – Banana Democratic Movement – and proceeded to win the subsequent election? A banana republic would be formed! Poor Kenya, merely out of the poor choice of party names.
ODM-Kenya, also a child of Narc, rebranded itself to become Wiper Democratic Party. What a poor choice of name! When you attend an international meeting and say "I am from the Wiper Democratic Party," what is the meaning implied? Wiper is a part of the car.
PNU’s choice of name was not too shabby – better than Wiper and Orange – but even for PNU, the unity should be apparent and meaningful. Even for the present Narc-Kenya what is rainbow about it? Why retain the name after the original rainbow members bowed out? After the 2005 referendum, something broke the pattern of spirit in the names of political parties.
In the UK the Conservative Party is mainly supported by the business and middle class for its values in low taxes and small government. You can derive this from the name.
The Social Democratic Party of Germany was formed to represent the working class; it challenged the conservative rule of Chancellor Bismark, championing the cause of improved services for the socially weak.
As for the favourite parties in Kenya, it is tricky to derive the stand a party has on governance or social welfare, since parties prefer ‘catchy’ names that are easily chanted. If a party advocates for social welfare of citizens, it is more professional to use a name that reflects values, rather than a name that everyone laughs at in weekly news roundup shows.
We are inspired by the legacy of KAU, Kadu, DP, Ford and other parties in those times. How can we inspire new generations using fruit? Calling yourself Party of Action (POA) may put you in the foreground, but voters know that all parties are meant to be parties of action. Kenyans need more intelligent inspiration. What action? What POA? Poor choice. With the United Republican Party there is mischief. Are the members republicans? How long will they be united? What is their unity about?
Political parties should choose their names and identities wisely. Be on the right side of history. We will soon write on the symbols!
Priscilla Nyokabi Kanyua is Executive Director Kituo Cha Sheria