17 December 2012

Kenya: Coalitions Aren't Driven By Issues


Political parties should be a meeting point around competing visions, values and approaches to structuring government, managing public resources and resolution of societal challenges.

They are supposed to define specific ideologies on social, economic, cultural and environmental issues which party loyals promote to influence the direction of policy and ultimately the destiny of a nation.

This then creates a basis for a lively debate on ideas that informs public discourse on current affairs. Political parties based on ideology invoke party loyalty based on shared principles, kindred values and common beliefs. Allegiance to the party is dictated by conviction rather than on dalliance.

Political movements are often a result of historical contexts and prevailing attitudes that evoke 'ideas for change' and subsequently leaders emerge who articulate and galvanise grassroots support for these ideas.

The American experiment was founded on the notion of democracy, which gave equal voice and inalienable rights to each citizen in rejecting the tyranny of British imperialism.

This formed the underpinnings of the left-leaning Democratic Party. Democrats believe in an economic philosophy that focuses on growing from the middle class out.

Republicanism on the other hand was born of a fear of 'the tyranny of the majority' by promoting a system of government that utilised checks and balances to safeguard the rights of an unpopular or oppressed minority.

It abolished slavery and introduced the Electoral College system to protect state rights.This is the fiscally conservative party of small government and top-down economic policies.

'Democrazy' in America is a perpetual tug-of-war between these competing forces trying to influence the system rather than on individual personalities.

In Africa many 'national unions' such as Kanu in Kenya, Zanu in Zimbabwe and Tanu in Tanzania were formed to unite the people against colonialists and promote Pan-Africanist ideas.

Recently, in the Middle East, there has been a rise of revolutionary parties that are leading the so called Arab Spring against dictatorial regimes and Islamist parties that are a bulwark against perceived intrusion of Western values.

In Kenya's political cocktail we have among others Agwambo's Machungwa revolution, the son of Jomo's iBelieve syndicate, Kalonzo's Wiper movement, Ruto's Kusema na Kutenda Republican outfit that morphed curiously out of one United Democratic Party, Rafo's POA party, Kenneth's Tunawesmake Union, Kiyiapi's RBK, Kiraitu's Mbas and the Grand Old Party of Kenya- Kanu.

Somewhere in that mess there is a Democratic Party that was for a while led by the good Reverend Musyimi who was miraculously converted into an ardent believer.

Meanwhile, the Iron Ladies of Kenya have stubbornly hang on to their Maua and Rainbow Parties. We even have an Underwear Free Movement of one zealous lass Kamencu and a Labour Party with no known affiliation to a workers union!

And in the current season of political marriages, the cacophony of pacts has grown even more bewildering with coalition brandings varying from the strange to the absurd.

What does the Jubilee stand for other than a forced marriage of convenience of a pair bound by a common legal fate. Or is Cord not an unbreakable union born of a shared lust for power? What are the socio-economic approaches to these parties and coalitions?

What national issues or causes are they for or against? What measures will they take to develop Kenya's tourist potential beyond what the colonial government put in place half a century ago?

How will they exploit our abundant mineral resources sustainably? What will they do to ensure all Kenyans have access to clean water and affordable housing?

What are their positions on critical global issues such as climate change? How do they intend to secure Kenya's strategic international interests other than the million dollar flop at shuttle diplomacy billed to the impoverished Kenyan tax payer?

What propositions do they have in place to develop Kenya's aging transport infrastructure other than buying top of the range luxury vehicles and choppers for themselves? Are they for the continued occupation of Somalia by the Kenya Defence Forces? How do they intend to propagate Kenya's regional influence beyond bickering for slots in the East African parliament?

How will they achieve the targets set by Vision 2030? What specific ideas do they have to improve access to higher education? Are they for tax incentives for the struggling middle class and small businesses? How will they implement immigration reform to deal with the refugee crisis?

Do they believe in conservative Christian or traditional African family values? What are their positions on women's rights beyond receiving a stipend from the public coffers for their mistresses and second wives? What current legislation do they want to repeal other than the one taxing MPs' salaries? How do they intend to secure entitlements and improve healthcare? How will they combat the increasing threat of domestic terrorism?

Are any of these outfits based on any cogent political ideals? The only common goal seems to be making a grab for political power. I was, for a while, misled to think that these outfits were tribal which would make for a legitimate though selfish common interest.

But considering the extent of the convoluted and intriguing defections, that proposition does not qualify. Otherwise, how do sworn enemies at dawn become bosom bed-fellows by dusk?

Kenya's so called political parties are in essence personality cults congregated behind individuals whose mission is to enrich, protect and empower a few at the expense of the masses. Let's just hope that our politicians will at least try and attach some sort of ideology to their gimmickry.

Nathan Wangusi is a PhD candidate at the University of Florida.

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