While its standard practice for running political parties in Kenya to remain brutal, cunning and complex, it is time we thought serious about allowing the public and in particular party followers to understand how decisions are made in those entities. Current party politics is highly individualized and main consideration for participating in politics depends more on individual character rather than party manifesto and their position on issues that matter.
Of critical importance is the establishment of a public communication/information sharing structure that facilitates the involvement and engagement of party followers and supporters in the affairs of the units, given that a number of them are entitled to public funding. We have turned seeking for political party leadership positions to be more about personality duels and rhetoric rather that substance and service to the electorate. Systems and ideologies never seem to be a factor, and especially where such critical decisions like nominating candidates for political party positions is concerned and party oversight on the performance of party elected officials including MCAs, MPs, Senators and Governors.
Our involvement in the Msambweni by election and the current forthcoming by elections in Machakos, Kabuchai and Matungu by elections, show that while we are putting a lot of pressure on the media to give fair chance for all participating candidates to be heard and detail their manifestos to the voters, it is very frustrating to access many of these candidates; largely because the participating parties save for the independent candidates remain inaccessible for in-depth interviews and interrogation on their campaign issues, and expect coverage but have no structured information sharing strategy. Most of the information is left to brokers and the candidates expect media to get this through their public rallies yet during the events, the candidates spend more time on hurling insults, empty rhetoric and blaming others. Nothing of substance comes out of their rallies or media appearance, may be during the night meetings. Political messaging seems a big challenge to these institutions, and many of the political parties have no serious structured communication units, save for a few.
Our political parties while big in names largely operate like personal fiefdoms of certain founding owners and financiers. Many of political parties remain dormant between elections only to resurface during elections. Few of the parties abide by the law and can barely give you information about their operations, membership expenditures and source of funds.
As seen from the by election preparations, it shows once again the reforms and changes in the way we do our politics rarely evolves; our politics tend to be dictated by those who founded the parties thus has the final say instead of the party followers while at the same time encouraging and the culture of handouts and bribery. This political extremism has narrowed the political space while frustrating efforts by institutions like the National Counter Terrorism Center that are implementing projects on preventing extremism in the country. I have seen one office building in my village serving as an office for almost all political parties in the region at different times; it is painted party colours only during the launch; the guy operating this is the same. Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo, was indicating recently that the political party that sponsored her to Parliament changed names and symbols without her knowledge!
Once more, it is evident that our political party system remains the main cause of tensions in Kenya; it favours players and fixers; not necessarily because of money but those cunning; and some grey haired professionals in government commonly known as deep state. It favours those with high connections, ability to predict events and hold a hand on the key personalities especially those who own political parties.
Today, reading the emerging coalitions and party formations, as routine, you rarely hear or read about respect to gender considerations, people with disabilities or minorities, it’s the same male, regional, tribal and related that its dominating. It seems that the recently talked about women, men and the marginalized will not sit on the table and make those important decisions even in our political parties; from where we get our elected and by extension decision makers on national issues. Our political parties have 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; but will rarely do what benefits Kenyans.
Save for the noises that are 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 sobriety and disciple that is required of such undertaking is lacking in our political system. Victor Bwire is the Deputy CEO at the Media Council of Kenya