Manifestos herald return of the clash of ideologies in Kenya

Nasa leader Raila Odinga (left) addresses supporters during the launch of the coalition's manifesto at Water Front Ngong Racecourse on June 27, 2017. President Uhuru Kenyatta speaks during the launch of Jubilee Party manifesto at Safaricom Kasarani stadium on June 26, 2017. Manifestos are predictive and prescriptive of change. PHOTOS | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • Manifestos suggest the course of action or the pathway to the preferred form of power or the future order of things.
  • A pervading, but erroneous rendition of African societies, is that “tribalism” not ideology drives politics.

Manifestos are inescapably and potently ideological.

Since the German philosophers Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels published the Communist Manifesto in 1848, evidently one of the world’s most influential political manuscripts in human history, manifestos have become indelible features of organised politics.

Manifestos serve three inter-linked purposes. They are deeply analytical.


They are based on in-depth and systematic analysis of the problems facing the society, especially a nuanced rendition of the ideas and dynamics that influence social relations (class, race, ethnic or clan).

In the light of this, the Communist Manifesto summed up the ideas of Marx and Engels regarding the nature of society and politics in the early 19th century.

“The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles,” they wrote.


Second, manifestos are predictive and prescriptive of change.

They project the vision of the future or the coming form of power in the society.

The Communist Manifesto predicted the replacement of the prevailing capitalist society by a classless society (socialism) as the future form of power.

Third, and related to above, manifestos suggest the course of action or the pathway to the preferred form of power or the future order of things.

They typically declare the policy and aims of a political formation, group or candidate.


Marx and Engels saw communism as coming about through a revolution led by the working class (proletarian) that would overthrow the ruling class of bourgeoisie.

A pervading, but erroneous rendition of African societies, is that “tribalism” not ideology drives politics.

Manifestos are therefore of little or no consequence. This is hogwash!

A critical review of the Jubilee and Nasa manifestos, launched this week ahead of the August polls, reveals the two profoundly ideological alignments now battling for the soul of Kenya.

Jubilee and Nasa are two multi-ethnic formations whose respective manifestos capture the competing interpretations of the challenges facing the Kenyan society, their overarching visions of the future and their preferred form of power.

More importantly, the two manifestos suggest the policies and preferred pathways to the future.

They offer two Manichean choices for the Kenyan voter.

The competing ideologies of Jubilee and Nasa formations are clearly discernible.


The two manifestos are deeply steeped in the history of a vicious and protracted ideological struggle between the capitalist and socialist visions of the Kenyan society, which palpably fought for supremacy in the 1960s decade.

These ideological struggles culminated in Kenya’s Magna Carta, the Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965: African Socialism and its Application to Planning in Kenya.

Far from representing a national ideological consensus, the seminal document set off the fragmentation of the Kenyan elite and the disintegration of the nationalist consensus.


The multi-ethnic socialist camp led by former Vice-President Oginga Odinga lost the fight to an equally multi-ethnic capitalist camp led by Kenya’s founding President, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta.

For over three decades between 1969 when Odinga’s socialist Kenya People’s Union (KPU) was outlawed and 2002 when Jomo Kenyatta’s Kenya African National Union (Kanu) lost power in the multi-party elections, the socialist wing of the Kenyan politics largely operated underground in exile and at home – confined mainly to Luo Nyanza.

Ethnically, the socialist formation was largely and visibly Luo; the rival and dominant capitalist front became largely identified with the Kikuyu (and their Meru, Embu and Mbeere kith and kin) under Kenyatta (1963-1978) and, to some extent, the Kalenjin under President Daniel arap Moi (1978-2002).


In a subtle sense, the rise of National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) of President Mwai Kibaki (2002-2013) signalled the forceful return to the center-stage of Kenyan politics of the socialist camp led by Jaramogi Odinga’s scion and ideological heir, Raila Odinga, educated behind Winston Churchill’s “Iron Curtain” in Germany.

In the same vein, the disintegration of the pro-democracy elite consensus in Narc in the run-up to the disputed 2007 elections and the collapse of “the Narc Revolution” heralded the return of the 1960s clash of ideologies.

However, with the historic defeat of Soviet Communism and the momentous rise and preponderance of neo-liberal capitalism in the age of globalisation, Kenya’s resurgent socialists dexterously took to “talking Right while walking Left,” unrepentantly pursuing an aggressive redistributionist agenda disguised in the nebulous but alluring idiom of “change” and “reform” popular with the dominant liberal-minded parties in Western polities.

While expediently steering clear of publicly challenging the ethos of the neo-liberal market, Kenya’s resurgent socialists deftly exploited the grievances wrought by capitalist globalisation – widening inequality gaps, growing poverty, shrinking job markets, socio-economic injustices, collapsed welfare services and the youth bulge – to mobilise multi-ethnic support.

A lethal mix of populism, grievance politics and redistributionist solutions enabled the socialists to mobilise across the ethnic and religious divides during the 2007 presidential election, culminating in the catastrophic 2007-2008 Kenyan crisis.

Although the resurgent socialist wing lost power in 2007 and 2013, the acute polarisation of the Kenyan society in the run-up to the 2017 General Election signifies its ideological astuteness in exploiting a blend of the crisis of global capitalism, local or ethnic-based grievances and the post-Cold War geo-politics linked to the rise of China in the battle for state power.

In many ways, August 2017 is a significant round in the clash of the socialist and capitalist ideologies.

On the one side of this clash is Jubilee, espousing a welfare capitalist vision of Kenya and highlighting the expansion of infrastructure, technological education, energy and agriculture as evidence of Kenya as an emerging industrial power led by a Kenyatta scion, Uhuru Kenyatta.

On the other extreme is Nasa. An eclectic amalgam of socialists and bearers of diverse grievances, Nasa is crusading for a vision of Kenya that is mundanely redistributive (basic needs of food (unga), free services (education), cut on rents, and the dismantling of large-scale estates and ranches and their redistribution to the poor.

Prof Kagwanja is Chief Executive of Africa Policy Institute and former government adviser