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Exodus to Jubilee in Kenya driven by nostalgia?

By Kipkoech Tanui | August 12th 2016

A few years ago, a Nakuru judge dismissed a defamation suit filed by a politician against The Standard for calling him a 'serial defector'.

The judge argued this couldn't be defamatory because defection in many aspects had been proven to be a 'smart career move'.

Defection, which is the act of either changing party allegiance due to ethnic considerations or the trading of party membership for many types of gains including cash and job offers, has evolved in Kenya over the years.

In Kanu's reign, defection would not be complete without a ceremony led by the President to welcome the defector into the party.

Questions were asked about what motivated the defection, and speculation included bribery with briefcases stuffed with cash.

Of course, the talk of a swap of party membership cards for briefcases would not feature in the Opposition, including when Health minister Mwai Kibaki stealthily left Kanu on Boxing Day.

Even today, the case applies with say, the decision by Kalonzo Musyoka and Moses Wetang'ula to join Raila Odinga before the 2013 race. Of course, the difference in this form of 'defection' springs from the fact that the 'defector' already has his party and only uses it to determine his shareholding in the coalition being crafted.

President Mwai Kibaki came up with something called "Government of National Unity', headlined by formation of Cabinet and sharing of positions with other parties. When Mr Kibaki came up with this concept, the first beneficiaries were Simeon Nyachae's Ford-People and the then Kanu chairman, Uhuru Kenyatta. Mr Kenyatta had before that thrown a tantrum arguing that Mr Kibaki was an "eyes off, ears off, everything off" President. In short, Mr Kibaki was in sleeping mode!

Today, less than six years later, Mr Kenyatta is in the final year of his term and he is confident he will be re-elected next year, and thereafter in 2022, he will hand over power to his Deputy William Ruto.

To achieve this dream, the two leaders have chosen the beaten path of defection, albeit with some 'digital finesse'. First, market the amalgamation of parties, especially those with strong ethnic roots, to form one strong monolithic engine, by calling it an act of magnanimity and of national interest. Here, they are argue, they are out to help the country kill tribalism by reducing the parties to two or three dominant ones like in the US.

Secondly, they placate the communities targeted using the freebies exclusively in the hands of the Executive such as resources for roads, electricity, water and hospitals. This is made to look more like a 'gift' than a right of the citizens and in turn, they are expected to reciprocate by joining and voting Jubilee.

Also, the political spin-masters argue it is a 'sin' not to be in Government and so make it look like a bus that can carry the whole nation. Of course in this bus, there is no paying passenger, yours is just to jump in and enjoy the ride. Those who may not be in the winning troupe are considered to have chosen to remain in the 'cold'.

The critics of this systematic shrinkage of political space argue that we are going back to the days of one monolithic party and the existence of fragmented Opposition parties.

They point out the return of Executive lynching of journalists, civil society and the 'social media' as an indicator that we shouldn't take the appetite to swallow small parties, in isolation with the rising signs of intolerance to free speech and limitations coated as a "war on hate speech'.

Well, one can argue that it is not the business of the President and his Deputy to worry about the health of the Opposition and that they have every right to amass power.

There are, however, two problems. One is a moral question; what their contribution should be to nurturing democracy. Here, I don't mean they should second their secretariat to the Opposition, which has its own baggage, but surely must you use the State resources and clout to destroy this creature of democracy that is meant to keep the Government in check?

In 2013, when the Supreme Court ruled that Jubilee had won, I remember writing that if these two, mesmerised by the infamous "tyranny of numbers", kill the Opposition then we are all doomed.

That is where we are today no matter the views to the contrary. We just need to remember the helplessness of Kanu and the buoyancy of the Opposition after 1992, and later in Mr Kibaki second term, when we had what is called a hung Parliament. Things worked well here because each kept the other in check.

The final thing, however, is what is happening to Jacob Zuma in South Africa. Yes, Napoleonic expansion of parties is sweet at the beginning, but a bitter pill at the end. Because after the nominations are done, the exodus will begin and it does not matter whether IEBC will conduct the party primaries.

As has always been demonstrated in politics, only a fool brings down his grass-thatched house because a 'generous' millionaire neighbour has promised him the room next to the master's in his mansion! Worse still, unless amended, the 2010 Constitution has only room for half the Cabinet seats - Mr Kibaki had 22 - and so what can be the bait to keep them after the nominations?

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