Political parties and ideology in Kenya



Watching a Sunday night talk show on political parties in Kenya with Julie Gichuru recently on Citizen TV I was surprised how dogmatic we are regarding the idea that Kenyan political parties do not have ideologies.

This argument goes further to state that, in order to have ideological political parties, “we must begin afresh with individuals who are ideologically committed and can organize such parties.” Where such individuals are to come from and how they will achieve the commitment is not stated. Nor are statements made about the so-called “clear ideologies” we need in Kenya.

This whole confusion arises from the fact that we only think of ideology in what I call “received terms”. These are the terms emanating from the era of Enlightenment in Europe, through colonialism to modern days.

So-called “clear ideology” means—to many in Kenya—either socialism or capitalism. The more sophisticated will think of social democracy, Christian democracy and liberal democracy: all products of European political history. Marxism, as a body of social theory, is also quite often lumped together with “all other ideologies.”

But even within European history, fascism and national-socialism of Hitler’s Germany and Franco’s Spain were also ideologies, so was apartheid in South Africa as a version of Hitler’s fascism in Africa.

There is therefore nothing like clear and unclear ideology: ideologies of all types will always tend to be very clear what their aims are and how they intend to use political power to organise human social, political, economic and cultural relations. In this sense, ideology means “a body of ideas articulated by a social force in society meant to influence the manner in which political or state power is used to organize the social, political, economic and cultural relations in that society.”

The expression of ideology is therefore not confined to political parties, though political parties are best placed to use ideologies to form governments and influence its use in exercising state power. Business groups, so-called civil society organizations (interest groups, pressure groups, opportunistic groups, lobbies etc) are rarely bereft of ideological convictions and leanings when they attack, cajole or seek to influence state power.

When Tom Mboya said, in his book Freedom and After, that the ideology of the nationalist movement in Kenya in the early sixties was very simple—it was Uhuru—he was dead serious. Nothing else mattered to the nationalists then except to focus on Uhuru because this is what diverse social forces among the Africans wanted in Kenya. Uhuru was a mobilizing ideology which promised many things to many people, and that is why after independence it became problematic as a “cohesive ideology” for the nationalists now occupying state power.

In like manner, the struggle to free Kenya from the presidential authoritarian regime of Kenyatta and Moi revolved around one mobilizing ideology: yote yawezekana bila Moi na Katiba ni sasa: kama si sasa, ni sasa hivi! Again a simple mobilising ideology which needed saw the break down of the NARC government—its fast product—and the putting together of the coalition government as a dénouement to the 1988 post-election violence.

The relevant question now is: what kind of ideology will move Kenyans to elect a government that can rule this country affectively now that we have a new Constitution—the fulfillment of katiba sasa—and do we expect a non-authoritarian regime in Kenya now that we have a democratic Constitution providing a sound legal framework for constitutional and democratic governance?

I find these questions more relevant than the futile shenanigans that always complain about how tribal Kenyan politics are, how dangerous it is to try and implement the constitution with “the current political class” and so on and so on. Asked by July Gichuru where the “brave, good, clean and new leaders” are going to come from, the panelists could only cry about “how money and materialism have spoilt our politics, and even the young are not immune from this problem.” No answer to July: just a litany of problems.

I want to argue that our political parties have ideologies. One such ideology is the ideology of tribalism where some leaders believe that power can only be gained by putting together so-called tribal “king pins” and gaining political power, preferably “against the person we all don’t want to get to that power”, so they argue.

The other ideology which is prevalent is that of “democratic governance within a national democratic and developmental state.” This was what the NARC government put in place under the Economic Recovery Strategy for Wealth and Employment Creation (ERS), and what led to the creation of both the National Social and Economic Council (NESC) and the evolution of Vision 2030. This body of ideas (ideology) has not disappeared from the running of government notwithstanding the collapse of the NARC government in 2005 and the coming into being of the ODM-PNU coalition government.

Being very familiar with the ODM Manifesto, and having been at the center of the putting together of the policies of the coalition government, I know that the new Constitution will seek to deepen the emergence of a national democratic and developmental state if the government elected in 2012 is committed to this ideology.

Such a government cannot be produced by a social force whose driving ideology is tribal: it must be produced by a social force whose ideology is national, democratic and developmental. Putting together a group of tribal king pins to form a government may produce a government of tribal federalism but not national democracy.

If we remember well, Moi’s way of keeping his presidential authoritarian regime in power for long was based essentially on shifting “tribal federalism” from time to time, thus keeping all other leaders weak and inconsequential. A repeat of tribal federalism at this time may look like a farce: in reality it will be a tragedy.

(Nyong’o is the Minister for Medical Services and the Secretary General of the Orange Democratic Movement)

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