Are our political parties mere bridges to power?

Former President Uhuru Kenyatta join Jubilee members  during Jubilee Party National Delegates Convention at Ngong Racecourse on May 22, 2023. [John Muchucha, Standard]

He does not need introduction among Kenyans having been their President and Commander-In-Chief of the Defence Forces for a decade.

But powerful as he was during his tenure, Uhuru Kenyatta is engaged in a seemingly lost rearguard battle to salvage what is left of the Jubilee Party that propelled him to power.

Lost battle because the Jubilee Uhuru is fighting to keep is a pale shadow of the powerful political machine it was.  Rearguard because the Jubilee Uhuru is fighting to keep alive is, for all practical purposes, fatally wounded.

The reality is the party that ruled Kenya for a decade, first as a coalition of The National Alliance (TNA) and The United Republican Party (URP) on whose joint tickets Uhuru and his erstwhile Deputy William Ruto rode to power in 2013 and sought re-election in 2017, is on its death bed. Thanks to the now established trend in Kenya where political parties are formed and killed in equal measure ahead of every election circle, Jubilee is headed to a crowded graveyard.

Jubilee will find company in the Kenya National Democratic Union (KADU), pioneer opposition party that wound up and its leaders crossed the floor to the then ruling party KANU making Kenya a defacto one party state until 1982 when it was made a de jure one party.

Other parties that have followed in KADU’s footsteps to their early graves include FORD the pioneer multiparty giant that quickly disintegrated and made its ignominious death without testing the fruits of its struggle to return the country to the multiparty fold.

Some 30 years later, Kenya is still struggling with establishing a truly solid multiparty tradition with strong and sustainable political parties. Preoccupied more with survival than building strong parties, politicians have opted to jump on a perpetual pendulum that swings them from one end of the political corner to the other without qualms.  

That parties only come to life in the build up to elections and drift to the shadows cannot be gainsaid. That is why, Jubilee remained under interim officials throughout the period it was in power.  

Political parties no longer engage in recruiting members and the Centre for Multiparty Democracy created to serve as a think-tank for political parties has apparently been rendered moribund.  The Jubilee debacle reinforces the perception that political parties have been reduced to mere bridges on which politicians ride to power and get discarded and ruthlessly decimated.

Critics have also pointed accusing fingers in the direction of President Ruto who was not only Jubilee co-founder but one of its most enthusiastic campaigners.

There is little doubt in my opinion that the now entrenched culture of forming and killing political parties has and continues to greatly undermine the growth and development of the country’s multiparty tradition. Instead of nurturing democracy, political parties have become democracy’s greatest Achilles heel.

Unlike countries that have nurtured and sustained strong party traditions, Kenyan politicians have accordingly developed a prostituting political culture changing political parties the way they change their suits. Today, there is hardly any prominent politician that has not changed parties.

And to assure them free somersault within parties and political alliances, politicians have mutilated the once powerful Political Parties Act that now allows them to switch parties midway their election without being forced to seek fresh mandate from the voters.

The introduction of the coalition party’s provision appears to have opened fresh gates for political gerrymandering among politicians. From Narc through to CORD, NASA, Jubilee to Kenya Kwanza and Azimio La Umoja One Kenya, the script remains the same – form or jump on the party that wins power.

With their eyes fixed on the next elections in 2027, politicians are already plotting the death of parties in the ruling coalition with the dominant UDA of President Ruto having already signaled its intention to force affiliate parties to wind up.

The writer is a veteran journalist