The tragedy of ad hoc political parties


One of Kenya’s ruling coalition partners has outlived its usefulness; active party members revealed thus in what could send shivers down the spines of supporters and founders of ad hoc political organisations in the country.

The Party of National Unity (PNU) whose flag bearer four years ago was President Mwai Kibaki is no longer a useful political outfit, thirty parliamentary members disclosed and confirmed that they are ditching it for a more acceptable entity whose flag bearer could be none other than the deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance, Uhuru Kenyatta.

Uhuru, the son of the late President Jomo Kenyatta, is the bona fide leader of the oldest political party, Kenya African National Union (KANU) that enjoys unmatched history and tradition than any of its key rivals. It ushered independence and ruled the country for four consecutive decades. National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) ended Kanu’s forty-year reign with Kibaki as the flag bearer but the marriage of unlike minds broke up soon after.

For once, the MPs allied to Uhuru revealed that PNU was purposely formed to accommodate Kibaki whose second and last term aspirations was in doubt in the fragile NARC with Charity Ngilu as the chair.

In 2007, Uhuru shelved his presidential ambitions and threw his weight behind Kibaki in a hurriedly patched election vehicle. Uhuru expects Kibaki to reciprocate the gesture by supporting his presidential ambitions on his party of choice.

The leaders said that they have since resolved to drop the PNU tag provisionally for the United Democratic Front (UDF) and expect Uhuru to be its flag bearer in the next General Election.

Despite the many hiccups, PNU chairman, Internal Security Minister, Professor George Saitoti has declared his presidential bid on the shaky party and expects support from former president Moi. Saitoti was Moi’s Vice President for more than 10 years.

Indeed, these MPs deserve a pat on the back for exposing parties for what they are and what they stand for. Not in so many words, the legislators revealed that part of the reason why parties don’t survive beyond a decade or so is because they are founded as ad hoc organisations with the sole purpose of conveying selected individuals and tribal kings to desired destinations, one of which is parliament and local councils.

Serious political parties like Chama Cha Mapinduzi (CCM) in Tanzania, Uganda Peoples Congress (UPC) and the African National Congress (ANC) survive as formidable organisations long after their founders are dead and buried because they profess an ideology that bind both members and leaders. Kenyan political parties are personal outfits and that go along way to explain why few hundreds of such registered entities founded at the reintroduction of competitive politics are no more and few that exist today are splinters from mother parties.

Kenya has the dubious distinction of being home to political nomads who cannot claim loyalty to any party at any time in the political history of this country. Habitual movement of party leaders from one party to another in times of need is an enviable fashion.

Leaders change parties like clothes once in every five years or midway for purposes of convenience and material benefits. For instance, no leader today has remained a party member for ten years since Kenya became a multi party 20 years ago.

Realignments in times of elections or a crisis explain volumes of political immaturity and impunity. Ideally, Kenyan parties are tribal, non ideological and serve selfish interests.

It was expected that party leaders would demonstrate maturity and tolerance with the enactment of the Political Parties Act and the coming into being of a new constitution. That was not to be.

The Registrar of Parties is in a dilemma. Her hands are tied as she cannot crack the whip on erratic, nomadic and freelance party leaders who have one leg in a parliamentary party and another outside the legislature where monthly membership subscriptions are paid.

(The writer was a Cabinet minister and one time secretary general of the then ruling party, Kenya African National Union (KANU). Email :

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