Is this the return of ‘Kangaroo’ courts?

Kenya: Single political party days is remembered as the era of red shirts, the period in Kenya’s political history when Kanu members had to wear party colours to express undivided loyalty. Kanu was an institution then.

The red shirts may have faded but the experience of the dreaded party disciplinary committee still runs through the country’s political culture. Derided as kangaroo courts, they are making a return in politics and rocking parties.

Bereft of ideology and manifesto to articulate, party politics are shaped and defined by whims that are driven by individual personality, regional and ethnic interests. The outcome is sometimes seen in the form of political mutation or metamorphosis – like the ongoing transformation of governing Jubilee into Jubilee Alliance Party.

Commenting on the latest political developments in Kenya – the transformation of Jubilee Alliance into a political party from a coalition and the a string of disciplinary summonses parties have issued to deviant members, Prof Amukowa Anangwe, explains the phenomena as a consequence of weak political principles.

Since Kanu was ousted from power in 2002, not a single party or a coalition has won elections on the bounce. Former President Kibaki won the poll on Narc ticket, which faded four years down the line paving the way for PNU. After Uhuru Kenyatta came to power on TNA (Jubilee), he has indicated he will be running for the seat on JAP in 2017.

“Political parties are ephemera. The legacy began with multi-partyism. The parties were not founded as institutions, but vehicles to ride to power. They are treated like socks – you change them when you want. That is why at every election, new parties are born.”

Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD) chairman Omingo Magara, attributes political mutation to failure by governments in power to fulfill contractual obligations they had with the electorate. Mr Magara, who is also Jubilee affiliate People’s Democratic Party’s leader, says party mutation is rooted in culture of “short fixes”.

“Dishonesty is a common denominator in our politics. It is a culture we were trying to run away from in the quest for multiparty democracy. We are now negating the ideals that drove us to fight for expanded political space,” he says.

The CMD boss highlights one element that politicians resort to hoodwink voters; euphoria.

Magara avers, “Parties are already mutating mid-term. This is against the law and Constitution. The fact that this happens in the countdown to the next election means that the luminaries want something that can generate euphoria. Euphoria, not substance, enable the political parties to retain power.”


Traditionally, the mutation of political parties is preceded by acrimony. Save for Kanu, which has survived many storms, all political parties without exception, formed after the reintroduction multipartyism, have split into unrecognisable mutants.

Faced with rebellion, Jubilee parties – TNA and URP – were a few months ago, forced into threatening to expel the renegades, while ODM de-whipped Kilifi North MP Gideon Mung’aro as the party’s chief whip in the national assembly.

ODM has now shifted attention to Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero, Karachuonyo MP James Rege and Rangwe MP George Oner, for not supporting its candidate Moses Kajwang’ in Homa Bay senatorial by-election. Yesterday, the party’s disciplinary committee issued a stern warning to rebels opposed to its candidate in Kajiado South by-election Elijah Memuse ole Kanchori.

TNA is pushing for disciplinary action against Nyeri Women Representative Priscilla Nyokabi, who the party accuses of “fixing” President Kenyatta at the ICC. URP, on other hand, has been toying with the idea of expelling Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto, while former Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka’s Wiper party has put Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua on notice for his open dalliance with the Jubilee government.

United Democratic Forum’s push for the recall of Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale and Nominated Senator Martha Wangare Wanjira hit a snag. It is a tradition that started when Ford transited from a pressure group to a political party. Raw ambitions in the star-studded opposition outfit precipitated its own disintegration into Ford-Kenya, Foard-Asili and Ford-People.

Narc, after ousting Kanu from power in 2002, was marred with internal bickering that gave way to Narc, Narc-Kenya and what was considered their ‘bastard’ offspring PNU. Internal rivalry too, saw ODM split into ODM and ODM-K, which later became Wiper party.

Pollster and chief executive of Infotrak research firm Angela Ambitho explains that constant mutation of parties is a universal phenomenon in young democracies. Ms Ambitho says that even established democracies went through a ‘gestation’ period before giving birth to ideology-anchored parties.