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To derive benefits from democracy, we must fix our parties first

By Francis Karugu | December 8th 2017

World politics has evolved over time, and so has Kenya’s politics. At independence, there was a multiplicity of political parties, but Kanu and Kadu were the dominant ones; there were clear lines as to what each party stood for. Soon after independence in 1964, Kadu was dissolved. Kanu would then become the single party up to 1991.

It is worth noting that during that period, characterised by a strong party heavily tied to Government operations, GDP grew at an annual average of 6.6 per cent from 1963 to 1973 and 7.2 per cent during the 1970s. It is therefore correct to hypothesize that there is a positive correlation between strong political institutions and economic growth. We can postulate that Britain, with a long history of Tory and Labour politics, has been a world power in many ways. Britain has managed to influence the world’s legal systems, business and even culture.

There is actually no empirical evidence indicating that certain ideologies as espoused by different political parties will lead economic growth and development, or the converse-economic stagnation. In fact, it really doesn’t matter whether a party is rightist or leftist, as long as it has programmes that speak to the current and future aspirations of the people.

Strong parties

Take the Communist Party of China (CPC) for instance. In the history of political organisations, it has always been impossible to separate party ideology from national development and oneness. It has also been difficult to draw the dichotomy between the people’s wishes and those of their chosen party. It is not lost on us how the CPC has managed the Chinese economy to the zenith of world enormity, in little over half a century since Chairman Mao Zedong set the pace in 1949.

Today China is a world player by all parameters, together with the United States, Britain and Germany. Germany has also undergone tremendous economic growth and development to the peak of European economic leadership, attributable to strong political institutions.

Israel is a model country that has had tremendous economic development and military might, thanks to strong political parties and institutions. The Mapai party dominated politics for 20 years, while Likud and Labour Parties have since dominated Israeli politics, and have interchangeably been responsible for the economic growth and development of the state of Israel. Both academic and pedestrian analysts cite the Singaporean example as the poster boy of economic growth and development. What many fail to appreciate is the palpable correlation between economic development and the stabilising politics of Lee Kuan Yew’s People’s Action Party.

Political maturity

It is on this premise that Kenyans must reject the narrative that Political Parties are “merely election vehicles” which should be parked once elections are over. In my sanguinity, while skeptics see schism in our country, I see evolution towards a Nirvana of mature politics characterised by strong institutions. The NARC government of 2002-2007 had a golden opportunity to do this as it started with gusto, only to die off by 2007. The ODM party has shown resilience and longevity as an opposition party with a strong voice that successive governments listen to.

But it is the impressive growth and maturation of the Jubilee Party that must be applauded. While it started as a coalition in 2013, wisdom prevailed when the fragmentation of many political parties collapsed into one big Jubilee Party, which increased the Jubilee majority in both houses of parliament, as well as in the county assemblies and county leaderships.

This affords the Jubilee Party what George Walker Bush referred to as “Political Capital” in 2004. This capital should be invested and spent wisely by strengthening the party and creating strong linkages with government and state operations. With a strong party, the government of the day will have an opportunity to implement its chosen economic and social programmes. Under its 2017 Three-Pillar Manifesto, the Jubilee Party promised to create 1.3 million Jobs. With a strong political party in sync with Government programmes, and with links to the county level, the Government should have no problem doing so.

Mr Karugu is a management consultant (strategy and analytics)[email protected]

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