The rise and fall of Economic Freedom Party

Mr Issack Hassan, Chairman Economic Freedom Party (EFP). He said the party is in a sorrowful state due to lack of funds for political activities.

What you need to know:

In the last moments of the 2017 General Election, some political leaders and their clan elders in Mandera County approached President Uhuru Kenyatta and demanded to be given direct Jubilee Party tickets, but that failed.

The group, led by then Mandera Senator Billow Kerrow in consultation with the Garre Council of Elders, agreed to form the Economic Freedom Party (EFP) and issued direct nominations to all its candidates handpicked by clan elders.

The party was formed out of frustrations orchestrated by Governor Ali Roba, who had bagged the Jubilee ticket for the 2017 elections.
Mr Roba had defied the council of elders’ decree barring him from seeking re-election against the controversial negotiated democracy plan.

Preferred governor

The elders had picked Mr Hassan Noor Hassan as their preferred governor candidate, but with Mr Roba’s stubbornness, they had no party to use in the elections.

Under negotiated democracy, political leadership was to be rotational among clans, with each allowed to have one of their own in a political office only for one term.

“It’s true we formed EFP after meeting President Uhuru Kenyatta in 2017 who advised us to go that way. We established the party in March the same year and officially launched it the following month,” said Mr Issack Hassan, the EFP national chairman.

He said the elections had divided locals into two groups despite all supporting the re-election of President Kenyatta.

The party won four of the six parliamentary seats in Mandera and at least 20 of the 30 wards. It also bagged the woman representative seat.

Five years later, the EFP is a shell of its former self.

The party has fielded only 13 candidates for ward rep seats in Isiolo, Marsabit, Garissa and Mandera counties.

Only one candidate is seeking to be elected under the EFP in Mandera, the party’s home county, where it enjoyed massive support in the run-up to the 2017 elections.

The party chairman attributed the sorry state of the party to lack of funds.

Ali Roba

Mandera Governor Ali Roba during a campaign rally in the county on July 31,2022. Mr Roba is seeking senatorial seat on his UDM party ticket.

Photo credit: Manase Otsialo I Nation Media Group

“Political parties are maintained and sustained by membership contributions, but in our case, we lack funds to run our affairs and this is the major contributor to our current situation,” Mr Hassan said.

He admitted that the formation of the EFP was purely an initiative of the council of elders from Mandera with the aim of bringing all the communities together against Governor Roba, who had defied them.

It was the same elders who had helped Governor Roba in 2013 to win the elections.

“This political party was about the unity of purpose through providing a platform where all clans will be represented and enjoy the political fruits,” he said.

Mr Bashir Adan disagreed with the party chairman, claiming that the formation of the EFP was only meant to address the problem of that time and nothing for the future.

“EFP was only formed to deal with Governor Roba at that moment. The party had no future plans as far as I am concerned,” he said.

House leaders

The rains started beating the EFP in 2018 after MCAs elected under the party in Mandera changed their house leaders, including the majority leader.

Mr Abdi Hassan Ali was replaced by Mr Abdi Adan Ali as the majority leader and several committee heads were also affected.

“We faced a lot of problems initiated by the sitting governor, who used the county resources to manipulate party leadership on the ground and even went further to infiltrate the council of elders, splitting it right in the middle,” Mr Hassan said.

After meeting resistance in the county assembly, Governor Roba organised a retreat for MCAs in Kajiado in 2018 and after “a pleasant treat”, the assembly leadership resolved to work with the county executive.

Mandera County Assembly Speaker Mohamed Adan Khalif said in an earlier interview that ward reps and the executive agreed to put aside their differences and work for the people of Mandera.

MCAs affiliated to the EFP had rejected a list of candidates nominated for the County Executive Committee and threatened to reject the county budget too.

“We had high hopes that things would change with the EFP members taking on the governor, but I was shocked that within a short period things had gone back to normal,” said Mr Ali Hassan, a resident of Mandera.

The EFP chairman blames Governor Roba for the party’s downfall.

Mr Khalif became a close associate of Governor Roba and his loyalty seems to have paid off.

He is the United Democratic Movement (UDM) governor candidate in Mandera and Mr Roba has endorsed him.

EFP leaders also lacked the ability to whip and control party members.

“All these members were handpicked by the council of elders and no one identified himself or herself with the party’s policy. There was no loyalty to the party. We had no control over members who were just picked and placed in the party,” Mr Hassan lamented.

He said that unlike in other parties with strong foundations where an errant member is simply called out, things are different in the EFP, because the individual member belongs to the clan and not the party.

Mr Hassan Noor Hasan, the EFP’s 2017 governor candidate, is accused of failing to remain loyal to the party and help build it.

“Mr Hassan was not even keen on the party that sponsored him in 2017 after he ended up in government and worked with the sitting governor,” he said.

Mr Hassan withdrew a petition against Governor Roba in the 2017 elections under unclear circumstances, angering party leaders and founders.

The chairman claimed Mr Roba lured all the EFP elected members to his side, including the assembly Speaker, who was proposed by the council of elders and elected by EFP ward reps.

“We were only left with the Members of Parliament, but in this year’s elections, they have all taken off and joined parties with money,” he said.

All the four MPs who were elected under the EFP in 2017 are now seeking re-election under the Governor Roba-founded UDM.

Woman Representative Amina Gedow, elected under the EFP in 2017, decamped to the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) as MCAs scattered in different political directions.

“People have gone where there is money, since EFP has no money to sponsor campaigns for our candidates,” Mr Hassan said.

Mr Yakub Adan, a local political analyst, warned that it was difficult to have a local political party in Mandera or even among the Somali community, because everyone is always after their own interests.

“Our people are very selfish and the clan-based politics cannot keep a party going because dynamics change every political season in Mandera and among the Somalis,” he said.

Mr Adan predicted that even Governor Roba’s UDM will not survive beyond December 2022.

Though the EFP struck an agreement with the Deputy President William Ruto-led UDA, Mr Hassan said, this only exists on paper.

“On paper, we are affiliated to UDA but we are not in any working relationship, and this is because our partners are not engaging us as required,” he said.

He said the EFP has noted lack of cooperation with UDA and that no clear benefits were spelled out in the agreement they signed.

“UDA was not clear on how we would benefit if they win the elections and that has left us disturbed,” he said.

Mr Hassan has joined Jubilee in Mandera to campaign for Mr Adan Mohamed, a former Cabinet secretary who is gunning for the governor’s seat.

“We joined the Jubilee Party line-up on the ground because we once belonged to them and we can easily identify with their agenda, unlike the other candidates and their parties in Mandera,” he said.

He said it was difficult for the EFP to quit their marriage with UDA because they were time-barred under the law.

Though UDA has a candidate in the Mandera governor’s race, the EFP says the candidate was not serious about delivering votes for the party.

EFP leaders hope to resurrect the party after the elections and develop a proper plan for future engagements.