Manifestos rich on promises, vague on delivery strategies

President Uhuru Kenyatta (right) and Deputy President William Ruto at the launch of the Jubilee Party's manifesto at Safaricom Indoor Arena in Nairobi on June 26, 2017. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The manifestos of the Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance are not innocent.
  • They are meant to excite supporters and opponents at the same time.
  • Both parties wish to get support for their policies by emphasising what they think the majority of Kenyans want to hear.
  • This is where they go wrong.
  • The parties failed by not producing county specific ideas.

The Jubilee Party and the National Super Alliance have released their policy intentions for the next five years. Each hopes to use its manifesto to guide its government if it wins the presidential elections on August 8, 2017. The two policy documents are not similar. They are different in substance even though the messages centres on building the country. The ideas on which they are developed are different. One has chosen the “development” route. Brick and mortar and social services are strong elements in the Jubilee Party's manifesto. The other has chosen the governance route and specifically “politics”. Building a strong and united Kenya where everyone is included is a strong message in Nasa’s.

This difference is clear from the titles of the manifestos. Nasa has a focus on building “A Strong Nation”. The Jubilee Party is focusing on “Continuing Kenya’s Transformation Together”. These are not simple differences. They are different ideas and values. They are the different routes through which they want to take Kenya.


The Jubilee Party is clearly strong on social development. Nasa is clearly strong on inclusive politics. Both routes are expected to take the country to a new and a better society within five years. But who can we trust to commit themselves to each and every word spelt out in these two documents? The truth is simple: some of the proposals made are impractical and will not be pursued either because of costs or because they will raise political temperatures to new levels.

These two different routes are not new. In fact, in the 1960s, Africa faced almost a similar experience immediately after independence. Faced with the problem of how to proceed after independence, presidents Kwame Nkrumah (Ghana) and Julius Nyerere (Tanzania) said, “Seek ye first the political kingdom”. Others like Jomo Kenyatta decided to pursue the “development” route. The political route was about building a strong and cohesive nation. It was about bringing different communities together to form a unified nation.

From left: Nasa co-principals Isaac Ruto, Kalonzo Musyoka, Raila Odinga, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang'ula at launch of the alliance's manifesto at Ngong Racecourse in Nairobi on June 27, 2017. PHOTO | JEFF ANGOTE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Tanzania succeeded very well in building “one country, one nation”. It is one of the most unified countries today. But it has been a poor country. The level of poverty in Tanzania has begun to change only recently – as recently as 10 years ago. Kenya opted to take the route to “development”. The policies adopted resulted in discriminating against some regions and communities in terms of development. Some areas and communities are poorer than others because of the policies pursued from the colonial and later periods. All the same, Kenya has the largest economy and better development of basic services than many countries in Africa. But Kenya remains one of the most polarised and hugely divided countries – almost down the middle – along ethnic and regional lines. There is little trust between some of the main communities because of this past.


The routes that the Jubilee Party and Nasa have picked would lead to different results. It is a question of deciding what should come first. It is a question of deciding which problems one should solve first: “developmental” problems or “political” problems. Both are problems on their own and they are related. Bad politics leads to bad development. Discriminating people in development also leads to bad politics. People begin to feel excluded. They become marginalised and therefore “withdraw” themselves from the nation.

Do the manifestos reflect the needs of ordinary Kenyans? To whom are the manifestos speaking? After a quick review of national surveys conducted in the last five years and specifically the question “What do you consider as the main problem facing Kenya today?”, the following stand out in this order. Cost of living, unemployment, corruption, and security. The parties have addressed these in differing ways. Both are not clear about how they will reduce the growing inflation especially in the first few months of being in office. Some of the measures they propose will take long before achieving good results. Importing grains or increasing household incomes are good measures but they do not result in reduced cost of living overnight. The parties make proposals on unemployment but it is difficult to tell what is new in these proposals made.


Some of the proposals made are aimed at pleasing the middle class while the ordinary person is left unattended. The proposals also look as if they are aimed at addressing the urban residents while the poor are poorly catered for.

The party manifestos are not innocent. One, they are meant to excite supporters and opponents at the same time. Both parties wish to get support for their policies by emphasising what they think the majority of Kenyans want to hear. This is where they go wrong. Because we are polarised and deeply divided along different tribes, various communities have what they consider priorities. What some consider as a basic necessity is not necessarily a basic necessity to others. The parties failed by not producing county specific ideas.

Two, the manifestos fail to appreciate the importance of devolution. They have paid attention to devolution. But they do so without a sense of clarity on how the national government under their watch would support the county governments to do to achieve the intentions of their policies. In fact, their proposals on health and agriculture, the two key responsibilities of the county governments, are in conflict with the spirit of devolution. They spell their proposals here as if the National Government can carry out these functions without involvement of the county governments. The county governments may politically decline the “favour” by the national government. This will happen especially if the president and a governor are from different political parties. Some of the governors may decide to refuse projects by the National government simply to settle political scores.


A third problem is that the parties released their policy documents after conducting their party nominations. This means that they may have elected leaders in the counties who will not bother about the manifestos. Had they released the policy documents at the time of party nominations may be voters would have identified those they thought were suited to carry forward these proposals. This did not happen because the parties do not see a connection between their policies and the leaders below the presidency. Both parties assume, and rightly so, that those elected will buy into what they have presented. This is a bad dream. Some of the governor candidates have their manifestos ready. Some of these may not be having any idea about what the national government will do. It will be difficult for the parties to sell some ideas to governors who are not happy with the projects proposed in the manifesto.

The fourth problem is that both parties are vague on how to fight corruption. They are generally scared about what to say. Both of them know that cartels finance elections – this is a trend common in all countries where business grows on politics. The two parties, therefore, are cautious not to spell their agenda on corruption networks. This means the corrupt will continue to sprout unabated whichever of the two parties wins the election.


The last problem is that the parties are vague about how they will generate all the money to support their ambitious projects. This is especially true of the Jubilee Party, whose promises are centred on social development or service delivery. But fixing politics, as is the case with Nasa, is also not a cheap thing. It means pleasing the marginalised and appeasing those who are perceived to have been benefiting from previous governments. If they are not appeased they will riot because they will think that the government would be taxing them to get revenue to please those who have been excluded from development.

To get things right, whoever wins the election will work hard to bring down the cost of living, address the problem of runaway corruption, and work hard for Kenyans to have trust in one another. Whoever it is, there is clearly a hard job to do ahead.

Prof Karuti Kanyinga is based at the Institute for Development Studies at the University of Nairobi.