• Irungu Houghton

Divorce, extra-marital relationships and Kenyan political parties

With apologies to my Sunday Standard readers, this is this week’s opinion. My Sunday Standard column will resume next Sunday.

Prolonged political deadlocks directly endanger Project Kenya as we discovered last year. Dialogue and reconciliation could be as risky. Reconciliation, rage and rain dominated our headlines in equal measure this week. After the handshake, it seems our national opposition is spiraling towards a divorce that will change our political landscape.

Most of our scholars agree that political parties are the means by which voters inform Government policies in democratic societies. Many functional parties create political choices and competition. This, in theory, holds the executive accountable. As politician and now Meru County Governor Kiraitu Murungi once argued, our experience has been very different.

Politicians have been free to leave and join political parties as easily as the rest of us do matatus. Behind his comment lies the reality that most of our parties are largely underfinanced, disorganized, undemocratic and anchored on a dominant personality with a substantial popular following. Our parties are like Cinderella in that fairy tale. They flourish during campaigns and then vanish at the stroke of midnight, leaving confused voters holding one high heel.

There are a few risks with the way that NASA is imploding and alliances with Jubilee are emerging. Firstly, there are no signals yet that suggest the handshake will lead to a more strategic or inclusive approach to what fundamentally ails us. This is probably the red line for me. If the Kimani-Mwangi secretariat offer nothing more for the country than the accommodation of political class minority interests they will squander an important opportunity.

Secondly, signs of a NASA divorce and possible extra-marital relationships between individual NASA members and Jubilee makes for a set of complicated relationships. Divorce can be messy. What makes divorce messy is not the separation. After a month of ‘ghosting’ each other, mistrust and contemptuous back-biting, divorce could introduce fresh air and new politics.

What can make divorces bitter are the lies, indecisiveness and meanness of spirit it generates. If this is NASA’s choice, its leaders need to declare this relationship complete, offer forgiveness, accept their responsibility and powerfully declare the way forward like couples separating. Failure to do this will predictably usher in a period of Grand Confusion politics.

Many have argued this week that we should not be worried. The tendency for parties to break up and patch up again is as natural for our political class as their paid supporters. The latter swopped party t-shirts daily last year based on who is paying most. Perhaps like that popular series “The Modern Family” we should accept this is our “Modern Society” and get on with it.

After acceptance, perhaps we should embrace the reality that the quality of our democracy depends on how we exercise the power of Article 1. The supremacy of the constitution and the sovereignty of the people article was introduced very deliberately as a single Article. Without constitutionality, our actions are meaningless. Without action, our constitution is powerless.

Besides our comfort at being spectators, “our tribesman” thinking also imperils us. This week, Cabinet Secretaries Keriako Tobiko and Sicily Kariuki faced the brunt of the tribesmen and women of Kenya Forestry Services Director Emilo Mugo and Kenyatta National Hospital Chief Executive Officer Lily Koros. Elected representatives sought to interfere with their decisions to sack and suspend the two public officers respectively for failing to protect our forests and hospital patients.

Here too, citizens need to raise their voices against attempts to shield the poor performance of our public offices. Ethnic solidarity is not helpful in the fight against deforestation, illegal logging, dysfunctional and dangerous hospitals. The alternative is to watch the country follow our multi-party politics down our road drains along with the rain raging across the country.

Four days after this article, Jubilee President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Deputy William Ruto cracked their whip against the 170 MPs who had signed an impeachment petition against Health CS Kariuki.

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