Azimio la Umoja's mixed messaging puts a damper on its rich manifesto

Raila Odinga's Azimio team plans a mega meeting with candidates in a bid to reduce tensions. [Jonah Onyango, Standard]

It is typical of our wonderfully short Kenyan attention span that the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya Coalition manifesto for Election 2022 and beyond is already yesterday’s news. 

We prefer the daily drama of our news, now firmly established as a “truth vs facts” competition between the talking heads we are bombarded with by our traditional media and the sound-bites and click-bait that is our social media. 

We are clearly an American majority, with little time for the British tradition where politicians explain how they shall “manifest” a difference (hence, manifesto).

One is easily inclined towards the American position. Not a gazillion documented promises (though in the UK, Labour has attempted a couple of times to also provide costings to their dreams), but a greater simplicity that begins with a set of (policy) positions – because policy is politics - and then transforms these into an exciting platform of ideas, with slogans galore. In today’s nanosecond world, manifestos are old; underlying policy positions translated to platforms are the new black.

This is especially so when every manifesto promise sounds like we are in a “Garden of Eden-like” beginning of the life of government. Or that there was no government “until us guys”.
There is politics too, of course. At a process level at this stage in the 2022 electoral game, Azimio’s early manifesto launch was an impressive pre-emptive strike against the opposition.

Too much detail

It offers “first mover” advantage; an early goal so to speak, in a contest that will be decided in the next 54 days. The homework has been handed in and published. Now, the others must reshape and reconfigure their own submission to the school teacher known as the Kenyan voter.  Submission parameters have been established – too much detail and you miss the point; too little and you still miss it.

But there is a technical level to this too. As noted above, Kenya is not emerging from the Stone Age lacking an agenda. As we speak, the business called government is busy working on the fourth Medium-Term Plan (MTP 4) under Vision 2030. Some of the technocratic targets include 9.2 per cent GDP growth in 2027; manufacturing at 15 per cent of GDP and oil, gas and other extractives at 3 per cent. Manufacturing is currently at 7.6 per cent; while extractives are at 0.7 per cent of GDP. Let’s go further. Kenya’s agenda is already set out in a clear triage of local and international thinking.

First, Vision 2030. Second, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs - also with a Vision 2030 vision). Third, our underpinning law and policy instrument otherwise known as the 2010 Constitution. This should be our Level 1 marking scheme for the manifestos presented to us.
By example, what is your political party’s plan to deliver on the Vision 2030 education vision of “globally competitive quality education, training and research for sustainable development” in a way that aligns with our 2030 SDG commitment to “ensure inclusive and equitable quality education and promote lifelong learning opportunities for all”. Or, on health, what is the promise in the context of our SDG commitment to “ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all ages” in line with a Vision 2030 offering to provide “equitable, quality and affordable health-care of the highest standard” that corresponds with our Article 43 constitutional command to ensure every person’s right to “the highest attainable standard of health, which includes the right to health care services, including reproductive health care”.

If we think about the SDGs on their own, what promises exist to deliver the goal statements offered by SDG 8 “promote sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth, full and productive employment and decent work for all” which cannot happen without, for example, SDG 2 “end hunger, achieve food security and improved nutrition and promote sustainable agriculture” on one hand or SDG 5 “achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls” before we even get to SDG 6 “ensure availability and sustainable management of water and sanitation for all”, SDG 7 “ensure access to affordable, reliable, sustainable and modern energy for all” or SDG 11 “build resilient infrastructure, promote inclusive and sustainable industrialization and foster innovation”.

This is not to say the marking scheme ignores local matters. Between Articles 53 and 57 of the Constitution, we have “group rights” provisions that speak to children, persons with disabilities, youth, minorities and marginalized groups and older members of society. If we throw in a progressive gender lens, we are talking about 80-90 per cent of Kenya. What’s in it for them/us? That’s why positions and platforms matter, and manifestos flow therefrom. It is also why it is probably premature to assess the Azimio manifesto at this stage. Not that it doesn’t matter, but here’s another reason why. And I am not speaking to the competing manifestos we get at the end of June.

Allow me to hark back to Vision 2030. As I have written before, it was probably over-cooked in its detail. But its core pillars still matter. 

Moving Kenya up the value chain, as the economic pillar proposes, used to be a question of production, productivity and ensuing competitiveness.
In today’s economic climate where the precariat far outnumbers the proletariat and the salariat, inclusion is now on the table. The social sector (as opposed to social) pillar has been clear; there must be a substantive human capital agenda. 


The political, as opposed to governance, pillar is a unique Kenyan innovation to national visioning. It must elevate us from peace to rights and justice to a rule of law philosophy in a societal and market-respecting nation-state environment.
What we have now are two levels of criteria with Azimio’s “early bird” manifesto as the test case. Level 1 seeks alignment with Vision 2030 and the SDGs, but mostly, our Constitution. Level 2 looks for inclusive economic productivity for competitiveness, progressive human capital development and a difficult journey that takes us to from peace as the lack of war and violence, through rights and justice to a rule of law environment in which everybody is accountable.
As the pilot of this road test, this is what the Azimio manifesto tells me. The headline social media debate about “mitumba versus local textiles” suggests a good helping of 20th century import substitution thinking.

This is unfortunate. The correct idea is to think about strengthening our manufacturing, building on agriculture, as a continuum, a process; not an event. And this thinking must be contextual; Kenya is still a country where half of our households who are occupied in farming are doing this at subsistence level. To get to the commercial level, value chains need to be understood as front to back – seeds and fertilizer are not the problem; markets are.

It is surprising that we still have a conceptual difficulty about what the digital economy means.  The digital economy is, by and large, the digital part of the economy, not some new economy. Test question: Why hasn’t Safaricom’s outstanding success translated into an economic boom?
The social part of the manifesto is full of promises. This is a good thing; as we build our human capital.
Yet, accepting that politics is done in poetry, and governance happens in prose (the difference – as said before – between politics as art on one hand, and science on the other), wasn’t the whole point of devolution to build local human capital, not dish out more money? There is a “giving” feel to the social aspects of the manifesto; confirmed by official language.
Which brings us to the political part of the manifesto titled governance. This should have been a one-sentence statement: “we shall implement the constitution”. Period.

Our Constitution offers the imaginative space to reshape the geography we call our country and the violence we call the state into a true nation. Here is where, as I have said before, we truly need governance and rule of law leadership that sets out our rules, supports us as needed and leaves us to our unique market habits.

This is not a harsh critique. Politics is competition. The opponents will offer their own game plan. But we would be naïve to expect “how to” statements from either side. We are walking into a 2022 election with a fiscal crisis that, events within and without, is turning into an economic crisis. No one dares say it but this is the legacy. We have had a 10-year presidential opportunity to reform the economy, fix government, support justice, build the rule of law and enhance social justice. At great cost, our next leader inherits a space that will require true creativity. The Azimio manifesto fails to offer that comfort. It feels a little 1980/1990s. The IMF could be our next President. 

There was a moment when Azimio had a platform (lack of policy positions notwithstanding).  Utu, Undugu, Usawa, Umoja. Uzalishaji. That was the manifesto. Not the mixed messaging around a 10-point agenda etc. To contradict myself on Level 1 and 2 above, everything else is detail.
Then again, we vote for people, not manifestos.  Let’s see the others then compare and contrast. 
-The writer is a public finance expert and management consultant