What you need to know:
- It is remarkable, in fact, that since demise of Kanu at the 2002 elections, no ruling party or coalition has lasted more than one term.
- Dr Ruto is bolting with his minions into the UDA Plan B while the carcass that remains with President Kenyatta awaits only the pallbearer.
Anybody following the recent tussle between the respective mouthpieces of Deputy President William Ruto and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga over ‘ownership’ of pro-poor policies would be excused for a big ‘LOL’.
Yet this is no laughing matter. The sterile argument serves as a sad reminder of the tragedy of a culture of political competition lacking in policy, philosophical or ideological underpinnings.
The fact is that, other than the nascent Communist Party of Kenya, no other political party in the country can clearly be identified by solid and entrenched platforms. Terms like “liberal”, “national”, “democratic”, “socialist”, “republican”, “development”, “federal” and so on are tossed around without a care in the world as to their actual meaning — beyond the coining of catchy acronyms.
The leading players in the game ahead of next year’s general election are the ruling Jubilee Party of President Uhuru Kenyatta and his estranged deputy, Dr Ruto; the latter’s new political vehicle, the United Democratic Alliance; and Mr Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM).
There are many other parties trying to get toeholds in the evolving scenario but this is not about listing down the entire alphabet soup; simply to point out that a scan of the various constitutions will not reveal any significant differentiations. In Kenya, we don’t have political parties but mere electoral vehicles with no agenda other than providing nomination tickets for the next poll.
It is remarkable, in fact, that since demise of Kanu at the 2002 elections, no ruling party or coalition has lasted more than one term.
President Mwai Kibaki abandoned his Democratic Party (DP) to secure victory on the National Rainbow Alliance (Narc) ticket in 2002. He ditched Narc in 2007 to defend his seat on another hastily cobbled outfit, Party of National Unity (PNU), which immediately went into disuse after he served out his two-term tenure.
Mr Kenyatta won on The National Alliance (TNA) ticket in 2013, part of the Jubilee coalition with Dr Ruto’s United Republican Party (URP). The two parties merged alongside some motley dozen other outfits to retain power as Jubilee Party (coalition?) in 2017.
Now Jubilee is on self-immolation mode. Dr Ruto is bolting with his minions into the UDA Plan B while the carcass that remains with President Kenyatta awaits only the pallbearer. There is talk of Jubilee merging with Mr Odinga’s ODM, and that will not be too difficult because neither party will need to make a major policy shift.
Even UDA, in its founding documents, can hardly be distinguished from either Jubilee or ODM.
So what’s the big fight about? It’s not about ideology, philosophy or anything of importance; it’s simply about campaign slogans.
Hustler vs Dynasty demagoguery
Mr Odinga has always owned the left agenda — in word, if not in deed. He has been the proponent of populist campaigns riding on the backs of the have-nots. Now there is panic in his camp that Dr Ruto is stealing the platform with Hustler vs Dynasty demagoguery. There no doubt that the so-called Hustler Movement is shaking up the political scene in ways unseen since the campaign against single-party rule.
The poor, dispossessed masses are lapping up a campaign playing up their grievances against the rich, putting Dr Ruto on a roll that seems destined to hand him the presidency and consign the “dynasties” — Mr Odinga, Mr Kenyatta, Mr Musalia Mudavadi, Mr Gideon Moi, et al — to political oblivion.
This is what seems to have prompted Mr Odinga to release a policy platform playing up the case for rural and urban economic renewal. His surrogates then went on the offensive trying to reclaim the pro-poor platform from Dr Ruto. The latter responded by sarcastically welcoming Mr Odinga to the Hustler camp for recognising that the battle for 2022 will be waged around economic policy rather than ethnic alliances.
Dr Ruto may be exciting the masses but still has a hard time countering perceptions that his “bottom-up” economic platform is more about the old-style politics of cash handouts rather than any sustainable policies. He is also at risk of setting himself up for blame should mobs that identify themselves as Hustlers launch assaults against those they classify as Dynasties. The fact, however, is that he has a catchy and populist platform that, for the moment, no other presidential aspirant has an answer to.
But as then-University of Nairobi Catholic Chaplain and Philosophy Professor Joseph Donders taught in the early 1980s, when then President Daniel arap Moi tried to ram his Peace, Love and Unity slogan down our throats, a mere stringing together of words or a catchy slogan does not a philosophy make.