By Rev. Canon Francis Omondi

The tone of the 2017 Kenyan election campaign is confusing. Consequently many are trapped in a maze of political choices. They hope to see an enlargement of our freedoms and an enhancement of the quality of democracy. The problem is that most seem unaware that there has been a steady ominous erosion of democratic principles.

Already many are drunk on campaign promises in the manifestos contrived to lock in votes. What is happening is a dreadful reversal of standards, so that, as the horrid sisters chant in Macbeth, “Fair is foul and foul is fair”. Kenya’s voters think they are sophisticated, but I am afraid that many will be deluded, just as has happened many times in the past.

I remember how in 1988 the Hon. Philip J. Kimwele, my father-in-law, stood as a candidate to be MP for the then Mutito Constituency (Kitui East Constituency). Some elders inquired if he would deliver jobs the constituents badly needed. He was honest: “There are no jobs immediately to give to people.” But he promised to put in place a mechanism that would deliver a variety of jobs.

They posed the same question to his opponent, the Hon. Ezekiel Mweu. He enthusiastically told them there would be thousands of jobs created and he would employ any in need. They elected Mweu as their Member of Parliament. But there were no jobs. Nor were there mechanisms to develop the people for what was a challenging job market. They had been lied to!

Party manifestos and promises must be taken with a pinch of salt. Let’s weigh them before being swept away.

Choosing between Independent and party candidates.

Kenya’s 2017 elections are unique. For the first time we are encountering an unprecedented number of independent candidates. The IEBC cleared 15,082 candidates to contest various political positions. 3,752 of these contestants are independent candidates, that is 25% of total candidates.

Disgruntled candidates in party primaries make up a bulk of the independents that had been legally barred from switching parties. Should most of the independent candidates win against the party candidates; work in parliament may be impossible. In the absence of political parties, the elected representatives could find themselves working at cross-purposes, making the formation of a government or a viable opposition an impossibility.

There is a risk that Parliament could be turned into an auction yard. Some will be enticed to caucus with the government side, since no law prohibits this. Others will back the opposition. Are we headed for an auction yard on a scale even greater than Kimalel goat auction in Baringo/?

The recent admission by Sirisia MP Hon. John Waluke that MPs often took bribes to skew reports or pass laws should frighten us out of electing unaccountable independents.
The subtle result of electing independents will be the inability of parliament to enact laws without hitches. Prof Jill Cottrell Ghai, Director of Katiba Institute Kenya, writing on Independent Candidates and the Constitution cautions that in a presidential model like ours “it would be hard for a President to have to negotiate with very many independents rather than a small number of parties.”

She concludes: “On the other hand, in Kenya where parties have fragmenting tendencies, it may prove very hard for the President to negotiate with a few party leaders to get legislation through anyway!”

Here is a case not to trivialize political parties. In the absence of organized political parties, how can one think of the working of representative government?

The importance of political parties lies in the fact that democracies cannot function without the existence of political parties. Amit Goel a political blogger with ImportantIndia, provided a helpful opinion in his conclusion that political parties provide political stability.

The political parties unite, simplify and stabilize the political process of the country. They tackle the destabilizing forces of localism, regionalism, section, interests and geographical situations. They succeed by making these parts of their party ideology, thus pacifying the disintegrating forces and inducing cohesion.

In a milieu like ours, it will be the political parties that would perform the functions of ‘aggregation of interests’.

There have been strong arguments made against voting along party lines. This fear, however, is pale compared to crippling party representation for independent candidates. Political parties in a representative democracy play a vital role in maintaining the stability by performing their roles in the legislature.

Picture By Enos
What do political parties offer?

Different political parties compete with each other with a view to influence public policies and opinion with their philosophies, ideals, and objectives.

In this year’s election we are realistically faced with a choice between Jubilee Party and National Supper Alliance (NASA) coalition. Each is fighting in the election to achieve its objectives incorporated in their political manifesto.

Professor Peter Kagwanja Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and former government adviser identifies the distinction between the two parties, which he calls a “clash of the socialist, and capitalist ideologies.”

In his words, “Jubilee, espousing a welfare capitalist vision of Kenya and highlighting the expansion of infrastructure, technological education, energy and agriculture, as evidence of Kenya as an emerging industrial power led by a Kenyatta Scion.”

He pictures NASA on the other extreme as “an eclectic amalgam of socialists and bearers of diverse grievances. NASA is crusading for a vision of Kenya that is mundanely redistributive: (basic needs of food (unga), free services (education), cut on rents, and the dismantling of large-scale estates and ranches and their redistribution to the poor.”

I doubt the existence of such clear philosophical divide as thus portrayed. Both parties have exhibited an eclectic blending of capitalistic and socialistic ideologies in their election platform.

Confirming this, Peter Warutere of Mashariki communications, concluded that there is no difference in manifestos and plans between the Jubilee and NASA manifestos. He opined they have similar pillars and messages presented in shades of the red and orange. The most notable difference is the style in which the manifestos were launched.

In this mix, it’s easy to whip the tribal sentiment and have people vote thus. We can avoid this slide.

I suggest a way out of this confusing labyrinth by exploring how the parties propose to govern.

Jubilee in all intents and purposes favors a centripetal system of governance. Where a strengthened central government works to ‘enable’ the peripheries. Thus both the economy and political power flows from a centralized core, which is in the presidency the ruling party to the far flunks. This favors planning around the presidency reflected in communities negotiating their development agenda at the statehouse, creating the notion that development is achieved if one is in government.

NASA on the other hand bends towards a centrifugal system of governance. Where the peripheries are strengthened to thrive and enabled to be the nerve centers for both political and economic initiatives. The manner in which the coalition is organized is indicative of negotiations and accommodation of opposing interests expertly woven into a formidable mosaic.

In overwhelmingly voting for the 2010 constitution Kenyan’s were emphatic, No more centralization of power. We have tasted the fruit of devolution and this should determine how we vote this time around.

Has there been decentralization of power?

Dr. Nic Cheeseman who teaches African politics at Oxford University makes this queer but true remark that “many of the policies that have decentralized power in Kenya over the last 40 years have pretended to move power to the people while actually strengthening the control of central government.”

Many agree that Jubilee has been reluctant to decentralize power. Under Jubilee devolved units have been chocked. President Uhuru may be adopting President Daniel arap Moi tactics when he introduced the District Focus for Rural Development in 1982. This policy ostensibly was initiated to allow the government to be more responsive to the needs of the people.

Moi was less interested in restructuring the state but wanted to break up the administrative and political networks that had grown strong in the Jomo Kenyatta Era. As a result Moi manipulated the district focus reforms in order to create new political networks that he could trust and strengthen his political control. In the process he did not decentralize power but “de concentrated ” it.

Writing in Decentralizing the state District focus and the politics of Reallocation in Kenya, Professor Joel Barakan of Iowa University and Micheal Chege of Ford foundation Zimbabwe, observed that rather than allowing more autonomy for the local leaders, the District Focus led to the posting of greater number of more central personnel to an expanded number of field officers to exert greater control over development initiatives on the periphery.

It is doubtful that devolution will thrive under new Jubilee now that they have employed similar approach on the devolved units. Returning Jubilee to power will be performing requiem mass for devolution.

On the other hand NASA, pledges to restructure and realign the State Department of Devolution and planning to focus more on inter-governmental relations and co-ordination of inter-ministerial functions. This is relevant to devolution rather than supervision of county governments as we presently have. They promise to give more resources to the county government to support full devolution.

In this years’ elections Kenyan ought to vote with eyes into the future and not empty promises, vote to mature democratic institutions against unstable whims and most important of all vote to keep devolution.

Rev. Canon Francis OMONDI
Priest of the Anglican Church of Kenya serving at All Saints Cathedral Diocese of Nairobi