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A tallying station during the 2017 elections in Kenya. /CFM NEWS

Fifth Estate

Kenyan politics: The more things change, the more they remain the same

Kenya’s politics and governance system is very brutal, cunning, complex and demanding; that faint-hearted can barely survive.  It has no respect for long term planning and can really upset.  It survives on quick fixes while revolving around some key permanent personalities and government operatives.

We are stuck at where we were since 1992, and seems to have stuck to a reporting format in our political progress- chaos, deceit, personalities, ethnic mobilization, hatred, impunity and make or break competition in our politics that always leaves the country strained.

The political system remains the main cause of tensions and poverty in Kenya; but it rarely creates permanent enemies for it’s not based on ideology, thus nothing permanent.  It can really frustrate those who came in thinking they will fix it or improve things for Kenyans; it favours players; not necessarily money but those patient; and some grey-haired professionals in government are critical players; ignore them at your own peril. It has no respect for popularity and of late those with huge online following, but high social connection, ability to predict events and hold a hand on the key personalities especially those who own political parties. Haters and those who begrudge others will find themselves wounded, while those who eat with others seem to survive in politics for long.

It has men and women, highly educated, professionals, with integrity who freely abandon values to cross the bridge, very intelligent guys who know what they are doing; just that doing what benefits Kenyans rarely concerns them.

Our political parties largely operate like personal fiefdoms of certain founding owners and financiers. Many of political parties remain dormant between elections only to resurface during elections or when clamouring for funds under the Political Parties Act.  Few of the parties abide by the law and can barely give you information about their operations, membership expenditures and source of funds. Save for the noise heard after failed nomination promises to Parliament, membership to House Committees and loyalty contests, no effort is given to fulfilling the election promises or giving alternative voices when the government is dithering.

The politics dominated by the same people who by extension also dominate the economic and governance system through old networks– and being interested and having been beneficiaries of the old system also have a hand in the security, judicial and public service. To survive, it occasionally admits and absorbs newcomers, who are quickly recruited to become radicalized defenders of the system, which they rarely understand. Even with the political parties and Elections Acts in place, there is still serious confusion in the political system in the country and as such we are likely to see the same individuals and parties dominate both the county, national and senate systems for a number of years to come. The legal regime has largely to put in place structures that would instill discipline amongst the politicians so that we at least bring sanity in the political/economic spheres of the country.

As it is today, politics in Kenya tend to be dictated by those who funded the ruling party to enable it ascend to power as those who missed disappear into oblivion, cursing the resources they wasted and rue over missed opportunities. Those who make it to Parliament in the opposition, without sponsors and deeply indebted after spending during the campaigns, become vulnerable guns for hire.  This has created a situation where those who come into power serve the interests of their funders hence political accountability is to those who finance the parties and not to the citizens. On the other hand, a strong culture of handouts has arisen. This has narrowed the political space.

Given existing literature on succession politics, succession politics in Kenya as elsewhere globally are tricky, and unless managed and directed well, can be disruptive. As it is now, the succession issue seems to be taking the upper hand in the national debate and are clouding national development.

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There are desirable lessons that Kenyans should borrow from.  We need to push our political party process to allow us to achieve the desired economic and social goals that we aspire for in our manifestos; they are highly tied to the political processes and the quality of our political leadership is very important. We need leadership from across the country to openly and honestly lead a national conversation that is needed in the country. The sobriety and disciple that is required of such an undertaking is lacking in our political system.

We need more vigorous involvement in the search for a peaceful and development-focused nation by academicians, religious leaders, non-state actors to force a national conversation that has direction and Kenya at heart. 

Leadership is needed and it will take more than just a few individuals to save Kenya from Kenyans.

The writer works at the Media Council of Kenya.


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