Monday 12 April 2021
  • :
  • :

Lessons from Kenya’s lack of intra-party democracy and dissent

As the title suggests, with the recent developments in Africa in general as far as the political changes are concerned and Southern Africa in particular with the ascend of new sheriffs in town of the  former liberation movements in Angola, Zimbabwe, Namibia and South Africa, I would like to look closely at the concept of Intra-Party Democracy and the Challenges of political dissent following a research paper written by Josh Maiyo in August 2008 in Kenya (1992-2007), to juxtapose it to the new phenomena I referred above in order to understand it better.
The unseemly drama is still unfolding between the veterans or the old guard, if u will, and the new messiahs or political sheriffs in town, if you will.  In a series of well-orchestrated moves the latters have jockeyed themselves into becoming the undisputed strongmen. The writing is on the wall and the coterie expectedly latches on to the new power base. However, in the cacophony of personality cults, we are missing the woods for the trees. The real issue is not between the old guard vs. the new sheriffs. The moot point is, there’s no real intra party democracy in any of our parties with national ambitions.

It is indeed ironic that we do not seem to care for intra party democracy and are reluctant to tolerate dissenting views.
The sad spectacle in Africa reminds us of the inexorable laws of the jungle where you will see the ageing lion making way for the new King of the jungle in a pride of lions.
In a paper written by the Social Studies Department of the University of Education of Port Harcourt, Ogudia Christopher argues that the return of democracy in Africa has been received with mixed blessing by many Africans, while for others it is blurred and full of uncertainties.

The paper tries to explore that the beauty of any liberal democracy and good governance, lies in the active inter and intra party conflicts. It goes further to suggest that only good governance through participation in such party conflicts can true real dividend of democratic participation accrue to the African people.
What this model offer is that claims and counterclaims can be voiced out and thus conflicting claims and interests can be resolved in a non-violent way. That is the beauty of democracy. From experiences and empirical evidence, it has been found that democratic order tries to accommodate competing visions of good life since all competing views about good life are scrutinized in the public where there is an undistorted communication among participant in the ideological space. The understanding in the game of politics instils the political virtues of freedom, equality and justice in the citizenry. These political virtues allow or make possible the principle of tolerance in the polity because different identities are recognized and different views are accommodated, laying the background for good governance for the common good. Fromthe above analysis, it is obvious that both intra and inter party conflicts, as the topic suggests, is natural, endemic and unavoidable, therefore must be contained and studied for better understanding and reaping of the necessary dividends.

Durkheim (1977) contends that pluralism is an important aspect of democracy since it brings about diversity and acceptance of differences in opinion. These differences of opinions can then provide ways of testing alternatives through rational debate on good governance or the absence of it in any polity. On its part, Intra-Party Conflict is a conflict within a given political party.
It is the usual natural conflict of human beings to struggle for that limited social value within the group in terms of prestige, wealth, positions even recognitions. Most of these struggles are on selfish ground, sometimes collective but are carried out through the processes of sycophancy, name-calling, sabotage, sell outs, and other negative behaviours in order to be noticed, settled or destroy the collective gain of the party. Sometimes too, they are caused by some element of usurpation, tight handedness, and unnecessary rigidity of party lords over members, greed, and some other personal idiosyncrasies of leaders.
These are the contending issues that bring about intra-party dissent in party politics. Inter-Party Conflict is thus obvious expected conflict because of differences in formation, leadership, manifestoes and ideologies competing to control the state in a democratic set up. The differences serve as springboard for individual ambition, factionalism, ethnic and religious bigotry, crisis of confidence and finally the quest for power control. Intra-party turbulence in many of the political parties points to the undemocratic nature of selection of candidates for political offices. The few high-ups in the hierarchy determine winners and losers at the expense of their party’s cohesion. It is no wonder, therefore, that political parties all over are having so much internal troubles that their orderly growth and development into a veritable resource magnet for political thinking and actions are being stymied. When the political environment is very much in a confused state, service to the people is thrown to the winds (Guobadia, 20×12).
It is out of this confusion that some of the politicians’ behaviour is so anathematic since their loyalty is automatically owed to those who engineered their ascent. As such, politics in Africa has become a business enterprise in which the investors reap abundant profit at every available opportunity; fair or foul. These profits come from a host of cleverly devised means, such as bribery, contract inflation, security vote and oversight functions.
Perhaps this is why Bayart (1992) has referred aptly to the struggles for democracy as expressed in the contest for political control of the state in Africa as “politics of the belly”.
In this regard, dissent is not necessarily a negative concept as it offers an alternative to the prevailing   ideas, institutions and system, and exists even in non-democratic system. Debate and discussion not only clear the air, but also help to bring about a compromise.
Should the positive phenomenon of dissent be suppressed, there would be resentment and growing anger. Frustration would lead to a revolt against the established system.
And finally there might be a revolution, involving great violence, bloodshed and destruction of all sorts.
In short, dissent provide a ventilation of the different views and pent-up feeling, in the larger interests of democracy set-up even if extremes of dissent can, however, cause havoc in any system, more so in a democracy. As such, it has always been advocated to fix a permissive limit of dissent. Given the nature and philosophy of democracy, we can infer that there is something wrong or something missing in the society or a country that claims to be democratic, but in which dissent is conspicuous by its absence.  This is what happened in Kenya.

To give a little bit of Background; As early as the colonial period, no less than eighty political associations or parties existed in the country (Kibwana 2002:125). Such ethnic movements as the Kikuyu Central Association (KCA), the Kavirondo Association and others coalesced into the Kenya African Union (KAU). KAU later transformed into the Kenya African National Union (KANU) which, under Jomo Kenyatta, led the country to independence in 1963. The only opposition party, the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU), formed by a coalition of smaller ethnic groups ostensibly to defend the rights of the minority tribes against the dominance of the larger Kikuyu and Luo groups that formed the ruling party KANU, was heavily defeated in 1963 independence elections and soon after voluntarily dissolved itself and crossed the floor to join the ruling KANU party in 1964, citing the overriding need for national unity and the country became a one party State.
Sustained pressure for the re-introduction of multi-partysm in Kenya culminated in the repeal of the country’s constitution in December of 1991 paving way for return to multi-party politics (Oyugi 2004:64). Subsequently, the Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) was registered as a political party.
The return to multi-partysm in Kenya was also characterised by the return of ethnic consciousness and political competition was quickly aligned along ethnic lines. In 1992, then Vice President Mwai Kibaki defected from the ruling party and formed the Democratic Party. Six months later, the traditional animosity between the Kikuyu and Luo tribes led to the split of FORD.
Two splinter parties  then emerged: The Luo  and Luhya ethnic  groups  regrouped  under  Ford-Kenya  while  Kikuyu  loyalties  went  to  Ford-Asili.
Kenya  has  perhaps  been  the  theatre  of  the  most  divisive  party  wrangles  arising  from undemocratic and non-inclusive leadership selection processes.  In 2002, the  then  ruling party  KANU  disintegrated after President  Daniel Arap Moi mismanaged his own succession by appointing a relatively untested Uhuru Kenyatta, son of his predecessor and first president Jomo Kenyatta as party leader. Senior party elites who had been waiting in the wings and looked to a democratic and inclusive succession process broke away from the party to form the Rainbow coalition and teamed with the opposition to dethrone KANU from power.   However, after the 2002 elections, the ruling NARC coalition comprising of the LDP wing associated with Raila Odinga and the National Alliance of Kenya (NAK) wing associated with President Kibaki eventually collapsed in 2005.

In 2007, similar leadership wrangles saw the split of no less than four leading parties in the run-up to that year’s general election. Some of the parties affected were ODM, FORD-Kenya, KANU and NARC. Of course Kenyatta became president years later after joining forces with Ruto but at what cost? Let us therefore enhance participatory democracy by promoting a culture of debate and consultations within the parties thereby promoting intra-party democracy. In one word, the panacea for our malady is simply good governance through effective leadership if we are to be free from the shackles of avoidable political wrangling and ethno-political crisis.
This is where our new sheriffs in town should trade carefully and not be seen to replace one evil with another.  I am not saying they should not correct the wrongs done but that should not be at the expense of peace. As I said before, we are experiencing cataclysmic shifts in politics and are now in transition or unchartered waters of a dangerous interregnum if not managed properly.

We have seen this in Zimbabwe and are now witnessing history in the making in neighbouring South Africa where the new Sheriffs seems to manage transition in an orderly manner. Indeed, change is something that happens to people suddenly while transition, on the other hand, is what happens in people’s minds as they go through change.
The initial stage of transition is often marked with resistance and emotional upheaval as people have to accept that something is ending before they can begin to accept the new idea. In this regard, one must manage transition and understand people’s resentment and skepticism as well as anxiety about their role, status or identity, followed by their confidence when restored or creativity, innovation, and renewal. Meanwhile, let us not forget that the future beckons and ultimately, every day, our leaders are writing their own legacies.

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of my employer and this newspaper but solely reflect my personal views as a citizen.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *