Thursday, October 29, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
October 29, 2009

Let us not put the cat before the horse. If we do that, the horse will tumble over and our journey will end prematurely.

Right now we are busy demarcating new boundaries, writing a new constitution and reorganizing the electoral commission. We are doing this after a bitter experience in 2007 when democracy was massacred on the altar of personal interests. Because we worshipped our leaders more than our institutions, we sacrificed the latter at their expense.

Much as we are waiting for a new constitution to give us the magic level playing field, the competition for national office will still not be fair if we leave the grassroots process as rotten as it was last time. What I mean here is that before we went to the polls for national elections, what we called party nominations was a joke to say the least in almost all major political parties.

Prior to the elections, ODM nomination centres for parliamentary candidates were turned into battle fields. The strongest, most violent and fastest runners got to the finishing line and snatched nomination certificates from party officials. Whereas party big wigs avoided grassroots competition by awarding themselves direct nominations, the unlucky majority who paid hefty sums to be on the party ballot box lived to regret it. It was a case of losers winning and winners losing all over the country. It was so bad that some prominent individuals that were picked to oversee the exercise went away disgraced to this day.

In other parties like ODMK, KANU and PNU, it was a case of party leaders sitting together and sharing slots among themselves. Some presidential candidates, fearing internal competition, either broke away to form their own parties then went ahead to nominate themselves for parliamentary and presidential elections without consulting the electorate. Some of the purported National Delegates Conventions at Kasarani were mere public shows to hoodwink the public that some form of democratic process was going on.

Perhaps the only party that tried something resembling an American presidential primary process was the ODM. In that party, much as it had messed up its parliamentary nominations, it rehabilitated itself when it came to the presidential primaries. At that stage, Joe Nyagah, Najib Balala, William Ruto, Musalia Mudavadi and Raila Odinga, all traversed the country and campaigned hard to win the ODM presidential ticket and when the delegates finally gathered at Kasarani, Raila Odinga convincingly emerged tops with Musalia Mudavadi coming second. And it was gratifying for the country to see losers conceding defeat and vowing to support the winner.

Anybody trying to reform the electoral process in Kenya cannot afford to ignore internal party elections because it is at that level where everything that is wrong with our politics lives. That is the place where real dictatorship, violence, bribery, cheating and anything evil can be found.

Here, parties are formed by individuals for individuals. The party owners behave as if they own the electorate. They hardly brook any internal dissent. Any voice that tries to question the wisdom of the owners is hurriedly silenced by party hawks and the military wings.

For democracy to find its place in Kenya, political parties must be divorced from their “owners” so that the electorate can once again own the parties they belong to. If this happens now that the government funds parties, professionalism will creep into the management of our politics.

The current trend where a party leader is a member of parliament, CDF chairman, a cabinet minister, a deputy prime minister and even a head of state cannot be allowed to go on. Rules of the game must strive to enforce the principle of separation of powers. Those who opt to run party affairs must not be allowed to be MPs, ministers or heads of government. Those who opt to be in the cabinet must of necessity resign their seats as MPs and CDF managers. They should be content with national offices in the cabinet.

Take the case now where Uhuru Kenyatta, William Ruto, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Martha Karua and Moses Wetangula among others would like to contest for the presidency. Kenyans and indeed political parties must begin to see this trend as healthy. Let us not start cheap gossip within our parties by beginning to see aspirants as enemies of one another either within our political parties or at the national level. We have to be seen to be encouraging internal competition in order to strengthen our parties.

Based on the above, let us encourage Ruto and any other member of ODM to contest for presidential nomination when it comes so long as the losers do not run away after losing the vote. Let us encourage more like Ruto within the ODM to come out and fight to lead.

Likewise in PNU, KANU, NARC KENYA and ODMK, let us discard this notion that once you are made a party leader, then it is your birth right to be the automatic presidential nominee. Good democratic parties with best practices all over the world do not operate like that.

That is the way it is.