In Kenyan politics, the recent attempts by some members of the Jubilee Party to dismantle the Azimio la Umoja One Kenya coalition are par for the course. Shifting alliances have helped shape and breed a competitive political culture in Kenya since the advent of active agitation for multiparty democracy in the waning years of the last century, one that transcends ethnic boundaries and tends towards broader class interests.
This country, as evidenced by recent events, is far from stable, and further political melodramas are to be expected. A challenge to the legitimacy of the Kenya Kwanza administration led by President William Ruto was launched by opposition leader and Azimio supremo Raila Odinga months after the dust had settled over the outcome of the August 2022 presidential election.
Equally unexpected was the leadership change within the Jubilee Party, the political party of former president Uhuru Kenyatta. Legislator Kanini Kega from the East African Legislative Assembly has been revealed as the mysterious driving force behind the purge in Jubilee’s ranks.
Politics of Manipulation
While these developments have undoubtedly unsettled a politically weary populace, an optimistic take on them would have Kanini and company hailed as heroes of Kenya’s democracy for their efforts to end the manipulative politics of Raila Odinga. The other, less favourable, interpretation is that the EALA MP and his followers have defected to the ruling party in order to silence the opposition.
When those who are supposed to check the current government instead join it in the name of “harmony and development,” that is not good news.
Even if you have good intentions, you may want to rethink your approach. Deal-making to find convergence on key national issues is not unprecedented in bipartisan politics, if the dominant political parties in Kenya today can be counted as such.
However, this is pursued in a transparent hose-trading environment where the desired outcome is known in advance. Since there is betrayal, nobody comes out on top.
What has transpired in Kenya over the past few weeks is reminiscent of the political manoeuvring that took place in the country’s early years as it fought for multiparty democracy. Although this may weaken legitimate opposition to the ruling party, Kanini’s move may accomplish nothing more than wrenching a handle from Uhuru Kenyatta.
That would be disappointing news for the optimists who dared to believe that Kenya had finally turned a political corner and become a role model for the rest of the region. It would also be damaging to President Ruto’s reputation and earlier promises to foster a strong opposition that could keep his administration on its toes.
The opposition in a pluralistic democracy serves a functional rather than purely symbolic purpose in parliament. In addition to keeping powerful people in check, its job is to provide a countervailing voice on national issues.
It is critical that President Ruto not be seen to be supporting the antics of the Jubilee rebels. Weakening the democratic transition in other East African Community countries by allowing them to succeed is not in the best interests of Kenyans as a whole.