To change Kenya’s politics, strong parties are needed

A political party is an organisation designed to capture and to hold political power in a state.

The key to this definition is the second part, the holding (on to) of power.

What we have in this country is plenty of political organisation, masquerading as political parties, exclusively focused on capturing political power, not holding it.

They operate exactly the same. Collect all votes of a particular tribe in a basket and use the weight of said basket to negotiate and/or compete with other basket holders for as large a share of national power as is possible. This is the standard operating procedure of Kenyan politics.

This is also why every five years, Kenyan politics descends into chaos.

What does it mean to hold on to power?

In the case of a democracy such as that which we wish to be, it means the ability to build a political machine – the party – that can win the majority of the seats at each key level of government repeatedly over a significant number of electoral cycles, if not generations.

It is in fact the fundamental pre-requisite of any serious political party that multi-electoral-cycle power is the primary function and goal of its existence, for it is only through this long -term power that a truly transformative vision and agenda for the republic can be implemented.

You will no doubt join me in concluding from this that the lack of any serious political parties in Kenya speaks volumes about the lack of a transformative vision at the highest levels of political leadership.

The issue of holding on to political power for any significant period of time is of course inextricably linked to the realities of ethnic arithmetic.

It is not possible to hold on to power across multiple elections unless the party in power has a significantly and sufficiently strong support base across multiple ethnic boundaries.

The last time we had a political party that attempted to achieve this was during the President Daniel Moi-era under Kanu, prior to the re-introduction of multiparty politics.

For better or for worse, it is surely not accidental that the only political party in Kenya’s history that made the attempt to reach beyond its leaders’ ethnic base is also the party that ruled the longest.

More recent history suggests that a truly national democratic political party is not something the majority of Kenyans would be opposed to. Both Narc, in 2002, and ODM in 2007 contained within them the seeds of such a party. Unfortunately, both rapidly regressed to the ethnic outfits that define politics in this country.

Kenya desperately needs a political party, or parties, that place at the centre of their self-understanding the need to build genuine national consensus for their vision and agenda. It is only this type of political organisation, remembering that “The Government” is but a machine that requires political leadership, that can provide the mid to long-term political stability required for us to achieve our full potential.

The challenge to our present generation of political leaders is to build parties that will flourish for many generations, and political institutions without which a democracy is indistinguishable from anarchy.

If we do not do this, we shall continue to flirt with disaster every five years, engaging in endless political games, whilst blithely ignoring the fact that we are sitting upon a youth bulge that shall, sooner than later, either make or break this country.

Ultimately though, it comes down to a question of cold, hard realpolitik. If you are serious about changing Kenya for the better, then you have to be serious about holding on to power for a long period, enough to implement your agenda, and you have to be serious enough about yourself as a leader to understand that the successful implementation of this agenda by necessity requires political institutions that will outlast you.

Therefore, if you are serious about changing Kenya for the better, your primary area of focus will be building the like-minded coalition of organised, disciplined, funded and focused Kenyans — a political party. You should consequently seek to endow the said party with the necessarily robust internal democratic mechanisms to ensure it is and remains a genuinely representative and responsive political vehicle across and above ethnic boundaries.

If you are not serious about changing Kenya for the better, you will instead change your so-called party colours, logo and slogan every five years, constantly re-packaging the same old thing in a variety of new clothes, and never ever offering a political solution to Kenyans that is either different or effective.

The more things change, the more they stay the same.