Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto

Happier times: President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto during the party’s launch on September 10, 2016.

| File | Nation Media Group

‘Curse’ of the ruling party strikes Jubilee

What you need to know:

  • The party gave itself a national outlook and sought to learn more from the Communist Party of China.
  • But recent developments point to it going the way of Narc, PNU and the Jubilee Alliance.

That President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party is disintegrating and no longer the behemoth it was designed to be when it rose to power in 2017 is no longer news. 

This week, the deep cracks in the ruling party were marked by Deputy President William Ruto’s intensified promotion of the United Democratic Alliance (UDA) after sharply criticising the President on social media, and reports that Jubilee was in coalition talks with ODM. 

And like previous ruling outfits before it in the last two decades, Jubilee appears to be following the one-election-cycle curse.

With the formation of UDA, talks by senior leaders, including Meru Governor Kiraitu Murungi of exiting the party, the possibility of Jubilee surviving past 2022, or remaining powerful, are slim.

“By August 2022, we shall have returned the name Jubilee to its rightful owners in the insurance business,” Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen, ousted from his powerful Majority Leader seat for his association with the DP, said.

Political analyst Herman Manyora argues that Jubilee is suffering from what he calles “the curse of the ruling party”, abandoned soon after the election.

“Jubilee has served its purpose. There is nothing remaining. In 2022, it will not be in existence in the form it was in 2017. Now, the President does not need Jubilee. It brought him to power. That’s it,” Mr Manyora said. 

But while Jubilee is the one currently in focus, Kenya’s ruling parties or coalitions have faced similar problems with succession politics, made worse when the incumbent president’s term ends.

This first happened in 2002 when President Daniel Moi was exiting the stage after leading the ruling party Kanu and the country for 24 years.

Kanu was vanquished by the opposition under the National Rainbow Coalition (Narc), which catapulted President Mwai Kibaki to power. Narc brought together a broad spectrum of political leaders, key among them Mr Raila Odinga, Ms Charity Ngilu and Mr Kijana Wamalwa.

But in 2007 when President Kibaki sought re-election after the disintegration of Narc and the emergence of the Raila-led ODM, he dis so under the Party of National Unity (PNU). Narc was left a shell.

The “curse” of the ruling party recurred in 2013 when President Kibaki exited and PNU crumbled, and in 2017 when President Kenyatta needed a fresh face as he sought re-election. He and his deputy remodelled their Jubilee Alliance – made up of TNA and URP – into the Jubilee Party.

Now, combined, the previous ruling parties post-2002 have only 11 MPs, showing their diminishing fortunes, despite once bearing the honour of having sitting presidents as leaders.

Kanu, the political colossus that bestrode Kenya’s political landscape for four decades, has 10, PNU one, while Narc has no elected MP or senator, only its leader Charity Ngilu, was elected the Kitui governor.

And as Jubilee heads to 2022 facing a similar fate, secretary-general Raphael Tuju believes that the problems bedeviling the Pangani-based party are representative of Kenya’s own challenges in its journey to achieve national political parties as Jubilee had hoped.

“Parties in Kenya, Jubilee included, are facing transitional challenges that need to be addressed legislatively and with constitutional provisions. This will strengthen parties and give them the teeth to enforce discipline and create structures that lead to national political parties,” Mr Tuju said.

On why it is still difficult to have truly national parties as Jubilee had envisioned, Mr Tuju posits: “Our political mobilisation, unfortunately, begins with ethnic groups. The easiest thing for politicians to do is create an us-versus-them narrative, and that is dangerous.”

Mr Manyora agrees with Mr Tuju.

“Parties are just special purpose vehicles. In 2007, President Kibaki dumped Narc that had brought him to power in 2002. In 2013, Uhuru dumped Kanu, formed TNA that had Kanu colours, and replaced the cock with a dove. In 2017, the Jubilee base demanded a new Uhuru-Ruto relationship. That is when TNA and URP were folded to form Jubilee. In 2022, Uhuru does not need Jubilee and Ruto is in UDA,” he said.

Mr Manyora thinks sometimes the collapse of a party or coalition is deliberate.

“In fact, Uhuru wants Jubilee as weak as it is, so it can go to the election as a coalition with ODM or Kanu. That is the plan, and you do not need a strong Jubilee for that,” Mr Manyora said.

Formed in September 2016 after the merger of 12 parties, Jubilee Party became a monolith, with at least one elected representative in 41 of Kenya’s 47 counties.

It won 171 seats in the National Assembly –140 in the 290 constituencies, 25 of the country’s 47 Woman Representatives and six of the 12 nominated MPs – coming just 62 shy of a two-thirds majority.

The party also won 25 governor seats, and 34 of the 67 senator seats, 25 of them elected, cementing its position as Kenya’s largest political party.

But barely five years since it was formed, Jubilee is in tatters, a pale shadow of its former self.

“This is a ship we are building as we sail,” Mr Tuju said, summarising the state of the ruling party.

With losses in last month’s by-election in Bonchari in Kisii County, Juja Constituency in Kiambu (where President Kenyatta lost against his MP, Moses Kuria) and in Rurii ward in Nyandarua County, critics of the party have declared it dead. The next battleground is the Kiambaa Constituency by-election where Jubilee is running a low-key campaign to defend a seat it held until the death of Paul Koinange in March.

People’s party

With hindsight, is Jubilee a victim of its own success and ambition? Mr Tuju seems to think so.

“We are victims of the challenges we have in the journey as a country. We took two bold steps in the last few years: folding 12 parties to form Jubilee Party and the March 2018 Handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga. What we need to do is ask how we can take advantage of those gigantic steps because, in the end, Kenya is a project in the making,” Mr Tuju, ever the philosopher on the state of the party, said.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga attributes the change of fortunes for ruling parties and coalitions, and change in election mobilisation, to the emergence of coalitions of ethnic kingpins, which are largely unstable because they are often cobbled up for convenience and discarded once the purpose has been met, or not.

“Kenya practises winner-takes-all politics. At election, those who win control political power and begin by excluding those who lose. Those who lose also begin to immediately craft new alliances or challenge the existing one,” Prof Kanyinga of the University of Nairobi’s Institute for Development Studies wrote in the Sunday Nation. 

Even more critical, Prof Kanyinga argues, is the 2010 Constitution, which sets thresholds that Kanu, Narc and PNU did not have to contend with, requiring a presidential elections winner to have at least 50 per cent of the total vote, and at least 25 per cent in no less than 24 of Kenya’s 47 counties.

In its blueprint, Jubilee wanted to pick lessons from South Africa, China, India, and Tanzania, countries Mr Tuju said had succeeded in creating “truly national political parties so powerful they have the power to even recall the President.”

This week, despite its dwindling fortunes, Jubilee was represented at a function to mark 100 years since the Communist Party of China (CPC) was established.

Dr Mutinda Mutiso, the Director for International Relations at the Jubilee Party, said Kenya is thankful for China’s role, but did not comment on the ruling party’s bid to mirror the Chinese political giant which, at 92 million members, is the world’s largest political movement.

CPC had promised 200 scholarships annually to Jubilee members to learn governance lessons in China.

“The ideals that we should have to help us move from small, ethnic parties to ideal-led, policy-driven politics and political parties are ideals that we cannot afford to give up on, not just as Jubilee, but also as Kenyans,” said Mr Tuju of what was, and is, he insists, Jubilee’s vision.

Coined as a clarion call to coincide with celebrations of Kenya’s 50th birthday in 2013 when President Kenyatta first rose to power, Jubilee was to be the answer to the cyclic deaths of ruling parties; it was to establish a base that had structures in all regions and corners of Kenya.

“The party we formed was never born. It was meant to be a people’s party, not one controlled by a handful of people like it is today. The only way to achieve this was by holding elections right from the villages to the national level,” former minister Dr Noah Wekesa, who co-chaired the Jubilee merger committee with Governor Murungi, said in a previous interview.

Dwindling fortunes

In another recent sign of the broken Jubilee house, Kirinyaga Governor Anne Waiguru blasted top party honchos, saying they had lost strategy and needed to change course if Jubilee was to have any chance in the 2022 polls.

“The rains have beaten us. Our fortunes are dwindling. Intense introspection is demanded,” Ms Waiguru said in a statement.

The party, she said, was different from the Jubilee coalition of 2013 as well as the Jubilee Party of 2016, with a much younger generation that demands different strategies to win them over. 

“Our outlook and strategies must suit the times and so we must be willing to step off our comfort zones and embrace new ways of thinking and doing. We must also be pragmatic and re-open both the sides and back of the tent for people to enter and re-enter,” she said in what some have read to mean a push for an Uhuru-Ruto truce.

Ms Waiguru’s comments came just a few days after Mr Murungi, smarting from what he called the discrimination of the Mt Kenya East bloc (Meru, Embu, Tharaka-Nithi) by their Mt Kenya West (Central) counterparts, said he was ready to bolt out of Jubilee.

“As things are now, the Deputy President is on his own with UDA, and the President is about to retire. Since I am not retiring, I need a horse to take part in the horse race,” Mr Murungi said, in comments supported by Jubilee Executive Secretary in Meru Alhaji Mwendia. These comments followed the controversial coronation of National Assembly Speaker Justin Muturi, as Mt Kenya spokesman.

But vocal Jubilee vice-chairman David Murathe, who often bears the brunt of accusations of killing the party, insists that there is nothing to worry about.

“We are happy that we have succeeded in chasing those that were not following the party rules,and now they have a home in UDA. Our job is now done,” Mr Murathe said recently.

For Jubilee, its make-or-break moment, it appears, came after the March 2018 Handshake between President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga, with Dr Ruto insistent that the deal was meant to give to make the former prime minister’s fifth attempt at the presidency easy.

Allies of President Kenyatta deny that Jubilee is fast losing grip on its support base as the General Election draws closer. They say their boss has concentrated more on development projects and not politics.

Out of 10 by-elections that have been conducted between 2018 to date, the ruling party has won three: Wajir West, Baringo South and the Garissa County senatorial seat. It abstained in Msambweni, Matungu and Kabuchai constituencies and the Machakos senatorial race and lost Kibra, Bonchari and Juja constituencies.

Isolated, Dr Ruto and his Tangatanga-allied leaders have found a home in UDA, a rebrand of the Jubilee affiliate Party of Development and Reforms (PDR).

UDA fielded candidates in Matungu and Kabuchai parliamentary and the Machakos senatorial by-elections in March with Ruto-allied MPs openly campaigning for the rebranded party’s candidates.

Jubilee Party’s top brass have already revealed intentions to have President Kenyatta remain party leader beyond the end of his presidential term in 2022.

But even as Dr Ruto further drifts towards the newly-formed UDA, he says he still stands by the original vision of Jubilee.

“The biggest regret I will ever have as a politician is losing the Jubilee Party. The kind of emotional, political and financial investment we have put in building Jubilee is immense. A strong national party is the only insurance against politics of tribalism and conmanship,” Dr Ruto said last year. This week, he accused President Kenyatta of orchestrating Jubilee’s downfall.

“So, was the destruction and dismembering of Jubilee, a national party, meant to pave way for support of regional/tribal parties in Nasa? Now, with the collapse of Jubilee, isn’t it fair for those who can’t fit in ethnic parties to build UDA as an alternative national party? Ama?” Dr Ruto wrote on Twitter. The DP also questioned how the President had not found a worthy person to take over from him in the party they formed.

With just over a year to the elections, the president’s party, launched with all pomp and colour and vowing to right all the wrongs committed by ruling parties before it, is staring at the same fate: a murky end, a one-election cycle party.

“The Jubilee intrigues are politically unhealthy for the party, and deprive it of the internal environment for growth, planning and cohesiveness in strategy toward 2022,” political commentator Javas Bigambo said.

But Kenyatta University-based political scientist Prof Edward Kisang’ani says even if Jubilee falls, Dr Ruto has a good chance of getting votes because of who he is.

“President Kenyatta is retiring and he will have little influence on the political lifeline of the party and he can even decide to walk out with his people to form a coalition perhaps with ODM, but DP Ruto has the majority at the moment and he can be voted without using it,” Prof Kisang’ani, who has publicly supported the DP, argued.

University of Nairobi political analyst Prof XN Iraki says that the ruling party is not yet dead but is suffering from “cognitive dissonance”.

“It cannot see the reality on the ground, I hope the defeat jolted it to reality, my fears are that its members will start bolting as 2022 approaches,” said Prof Iraki adding that only the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is giving the party life.

As the clock ticks towards 2022, questions abound on how a political party, supposedly created with a national outlook to revolutionise the parties landscape and remain in power for a long time is struggling to survive beyond a five-year election cycle.

Additional reporting by Onyango K’onyango


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