Today the Jubilee Party will be born. What happens after this birth is anybody’s guess. But one thing is clear. History is about to repeat itself. Georg Friedrich Hegel famously remarked that all great things and personalities appear twice in history. Karl Marx modified Hegel’s aphorism. Writing about the quasi-revolutionary misadventures of Napoleon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis Napoleon over the period 1792 – 1851, Marx remarked, “History repeats itself, first as a farce and second as a tragedy.”
Kenya’s farcical and tragic history is forever repeating itself. The farce of national unity began after independence. It is with us again. Writing in the volume Decolonization and Independence in Kenya 1940 – 93, William. R. Ochieng recalls that opposition MPs from the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) and the African People’s Party (APP) “were lured to join KANU in the government. They immediately strengthened the conservative wing of KANU.” The objective was to muzzle opposition. National unity was the excuse rather than the reason a one party State was imposed.
Migration of the opposition into KANU in 1966 began an odyssey whose impact remains today. It placed KANU’s bigwigs on a political roller coaster. It concentrated power in the hands of the Executive, leading to actualization of Lord Acton’s maxim that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Political detention without trial became normal. Ethnic and religious marginalization and political assassinations came home to stay. The assassinations remain unsolved, decades later. Will the birth of the Jubilee Party make Kenya a better country, or will it open a new phase to a fifty-year-old odyssey?
We have heard the same sound bytes as we did in 1966. In the interest of forging unity among Kenyans, it was important to have one strong political party that included all tribes. Against the grain of history, we can see today that this did not happen. Mzee Kenyatta’s government entrenched negative ethnicity while dishonestly preaching national unity. Subsequent governments have walked in the same footsteps. The country remains as divided as ever.
The big lesson in Kenya’s tribal history is that negative ethnic energy is not a factor of people not belonging to one political party. It is a product of ethnic exclusion and discrimination by those in power. You cannot, therefore, railroad a country into one political party and imagine that you now have a united nation. Kenyans have been brought up in a culturally divisive and ethnically arrogant environment. They need more than party tokenism and political mumbo-jumbo to build trust across ethnic lines.
Let me repeat. Ethnic animosity is almost always a factor of perceptions of ethnic exclusion and injustice. Even where everybody belongs to one party, as Kenyans did in the period 1966 – 1991, hostile ethnic relations will be there, if populations feel left out of social, political and economic opportunities. This, more than anything else, is what President Kenyatta needs to address. Is his government inclusive?
Even as he fuses thirteen parties into one, there remains a preponderant feeling that Kenyatta presides over an ethnic duopoly. For as long as this perception remains, herding people into single parties is a futile exercise as far as nation building goes. We are already hearing people talk of the different ethnic factions in the party to be born today. The factions will be watching the opportunities in the party from ethnic vantage points.
Apart from 1966 and today, political parties fused again in March 2002. This time round Raila Odinga’s National Development Party (NDP) folded to join KANU. If the 1966 merger of parties was a farce, the 2002 union was a tragedy – for KANU. The unfulfilled expectations of the NDP brigade lifted the lid to the activities that led to the defeat of President Moi’s Uhuru Project. They served KANU a blow that has left her staggering, fourteen years on. What are the expectations of those now dissolving their parties to merge into Jubilee? Where will they leave the new party? Time will tell. Meanwhile the Jubilee ownership will do well to remain conscious of the damage that unmet ambitions can do. It should not surprise them to witness discontent and infighting as politicians compete for the same goals and opportunities, under one roof.
President Kenyatta and DP William Ruto will also be focused on taming defections. To address this, they have worked with CORD leaders to pass what they call the “anti-party hopping law.” Here, again, history has repeated itself. Legislators have enacted a law against themselves, just as they did after the formation of KPU in 1966. The new law will return to haunt the lawmakers a few months from now. Just like the 1966 law haunted those who made it, some in the present crop of MPs will fry in their own political fat after Jubilee and CORD sideline them next year. Conversely, defections might begin a short time to come, from both CORD and Jubilee.
As Jubilee juggles the marbles of trying to lock up Kenyans in one political corner, CORD haplessly stares into a major political abyss. Kenyatta and Ruto are busy registering voters in their strongholds through the continuous voter registration process. They have a very clear picture of how many new voters they lap on each month – and where. When they raid CORD strongholds, they know that they will not turn the tables against CORD. But they know that they can grasp a few votes from them. And that is all they want, because it will make a difference. The Jubilee strategy is scientific and foolproof.
Raila Odinga and his brigade may want to change tack. They ought to know, by now, that the crowds that turn up to look at them in their flight visits to Emanyulia and sundry places will not necessarily vote for them. Are they registered voters? Do they even have national identity cards? Who is managing their registration and sustaining their loyalty? CORD is caught up in panicky knee jerk reactions to Jubilee strategies. When they are not putting up rushed rallies and roadshows in reaction to Jubilee, they are busy fighting in house. They are hapless. They have no strategy, no plan on how to win the coming election. I can tell Raila Odinga for free. Running around the countryside without a strategy and a clear message, except crying wolf and calling people names, does not bring in votes. Wake up and style up now, or you will tell the world the same old post election story next year. Good luck.