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Party Hopping Renders Leaders Political Nomads

It is necessary to change the way of doing politics…time for professional ethics is a precondition for good governance!

Once upon a time President Moi referred to politicians that kept on changing their parties as nomads. I think he was perfectly right. He had a far-reaching insight about the fate of Kenya’s politics. For the last decades Kenya has developed a political culture with no key outstanding principles or concrete ideological framework. Hopping from a party to the other happens in Kenya more than any other democracy in East Africa. It rarely happens in the USA where political liberalism originated from. In the United States of America it is a rare practice to see a Republican changing his or her affiliation to join Democrats because whether one is the ruling party of not. Such switching of parties has created in Kenya what is known as politics of betrayal. It has rendered many leaders incredibly redundant and out of touch with reality on the ground.

What is happening in Kenya today is a true picture of the political landscape politicians have created over some time. There is tendency to align oneself with the ruling party as it happened when multi-party system was re-introduced after being abolished by President Moi through Section 2A of the repealed constitution. Before the multi-party was re-introduced in 2001 to redefine the Kenya’s democracy there was only one party (KANU) and the changing of a party would mean having no party. One party system created a quasi fascist regime that saw some members of the opposition being tortured or forced out of the mainstream politics. Failure to subscribed to the ruling party was the same as being counted out from state offices. The system was demonized, undemocratic, unconstitutional and lead to authoritarianism.

Credit goes to those who struggled for a more democratic space even if second liberation was like committing political suicide. The late Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, Charles Rubia, Keneth Matiba and many other veterans who went down the history record for their exceptional struggle for democracy (second liberation).

Money politics backed by vested individual interests is what has lead to grand political corruption. A democracy which believes in buying votes is already corrupt and cannot qualify to be a democracy but demagogy. Persons with big money usually buy-out key influential politicians from strategic regions in order to boost their basket with more ballots. It is the tyranny of numbers as one Prof. Mutahi Ngunyi had predicted back before 2013 General Elections.

Using money or goodies to buy the will of the people is not democratic. It demonstrates social inequalities. Political corruption is the most dangerous practice for any young democracy that seeks to be a role model. It makes legislators and executives lose focus in real issues directly and indirectly affecting citizens making them over concentrate on their own personal benefits and business as usual. Needless to say, political economy blurred with corruption has brought about money and tribal politics, cum negative ethnicity. In this process politicians give hand-outs to their potential voters in order to win the confidence of the people. The electorates tend to believe whoever their local leader tells them is the best. This does not show political maturity and issue based thinking.

How can a corrupt elite who has used his savings to buy voters democratically represent the same constituents as required by the constitution? Some elected politicians proudly tell off their constituents that they bought them and they must recover the money before addressing their needs.

Political parties have also become lucrative business in Kenya and registering them has become very easy like churches. It is a question of who is who. It is about money and numbers.

Looking at the political tempo in Kenya, the nation is divided along ethnic affiliations. The winner takes it all syndrome has ensured that being in the opposition is like being in political cold where no affiliate of the opposition shall never get any job in government or state appointment.Scrupulous parties use their time in government to offer goodies to their supporters and awarding leaders ministerial positions in return.

The constitution of 2010 was meant to reduce the presidential power through devolved system of government because of the excesses of such power on individuals and their parties. President Kibaki was voted on NARC ticket. That was a merger party which was betrayed by its leaders after the job had been done. The President registered his Party for National Unity (PNU) which was supposed to help him keep to power. Now PNU is defunct party when its strategic members were lured to join TNA (The National Alliance) and some joined URP. In 2013, the two big parties formed a bigger alliance Jubilee and fielded one president to challenge the rival CORD.

It is obvious that the ruling party has access to government funds, institutions, and can use such opportunity to accumulate unaccounted wealth which can possibly be used to corrupt other leaders and electoral bodies.For example, the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission has had its fair share when politicians raised such allegations in 2016. Even if the entire team has been sent packing, the political terrain has never changed as the crescendo of political corruption is ever high.

During the last term of President Kibaki the government passed Political Parties Act to restrict politicians from changing their parties without losing their elective positions. Bribing of voters was outlawed. Kenya is back to where it was a decade ago by politicians being swayed by big money or promise to get positions in the government. It means, those who support the party in power are likely to be rewarded. Those who stick to the opposition shall not be considered and may also face some kind of punishment. This is not the fundamental freedom.

So hopping of parties can also be an imposition on individuals and their communities. It can be a result of socio-psychological torture and need for development.

Some leaders prefer not dishing out money but keep to their principles and ideologies as in the Western nations hoping to win.However, the poor voters do not consider ideals any more but rather, the urgent basic needs. For instance, whoever can afford paying in cash is better than that who has the ideas but cannot respond to the immediate needs.

To be successful in such a scenario a leader must negotiate with people. Such negotiation includes giving hand-outs, promising jobs, initiating projects, appointing members of the communities to state positions and using money. This is what is known as political corruption whose aim is to manipulate the sufferings of people. The hustlers will only understand one language, that of material benefit to satisfy immediate needs. Ideas, visions, missions, manifestos and values can come later.

What is negotiated democracy? This is the emerging interpretation of democracy in many African countries including Kenya. It means that there shall be no election but nomination within such arrangement. The nominators are delegates with personal vested interests. This shall encourage one party system which is going to be another twist to the principles of democracy. Namely, the merging of parties into one party is not the solution to the political corruption, partisan politics, and ethnic exclusiveness in Kenya.

The expression “It is our time to eat” is perfected in negotiated democracy. Is there anything such as African problems and African solutions in negotiated democracy?

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About Peter Onyango

Dr. Peter Onyango O. is one of our main contributors. He is a senior law lecturer, a writer, a consultant, peace ambassador, and a researcher. He assists so many professionals, legal minds, and debaters with his skills and scholarly wealth! He supports children and village community as a way of giving back to community. He edits, proof reads, and publishes various articles for our page!


  1. Why is it that Kenyan politicians prefer creating new political outfits instead of improving on the existing one? I need an answer to this trend.

    • This is a very interesting question. It is necessary to know that politics is a dynamic aspect of social life. It keeps on mutating according to various circumstances both from within and without. Another answer to this question is lack of ideology based politics. The first parties such as KANU and KADU were both focused on the independence and forming the first African autonomous government. The two outfits had clear manifesto and guiding principles. Actually it was the time Kenyan politics performed very well until “betrayal” started and KANU had to kill KADU in order to survive. This was the beginning of party hopping when KANU won over KADU and had to form the first government. Within the ruling party there was a scheme of ensuring that whoever was not in the party was a traitor and an enemy of the chama. The same trend has perpetuated till today. However, KANU had to tumble as it became a dictatorial outfit. Now the same party hopping emerges from the fear of missing out from the development agenda. It is not easy in such climate to stick to one party and improve it from within. The same leaders in one party will obviously betray one another and engage in corruption. For cute politicians, with great number of followers, it is always convenient to stand alone with less interference. By doing so, the party leader is like the party owner and what he says is the Gospel truth. All must dance according to the leaders tune or ship out. The failure of democracy is within the political parties first. There is no democracy in the parties…then parties have become kiosks owned by proprietors. When the owners feel that they cannot contain challenges within the party, they jump out of it and form a new outfit where they remain still the leader. By doing this, Kenyans have not managed to render the parties democratic. Such practice is perpetuated to national governance.

  2. Am tempted to believe that after the independence there was no anything else to propose to people other than nation building. When KANU had won the first government in 1963, the urgent work was to harmonize the party from within and get things fixed. Due to selfishness and failure of shared ideologies blended with the Cold War politics, after a long time in power KANU became dictatorial and those with dissenting opinion had to quit or face the wrath. One Party State was unilaterally declared and leaders of the Opposition were put under house arrest or detained or threatened and even eliminated. The constitution of 2010 has fixed this way of doing things but the culture has remained in the minds of the politicians. Join the ruling party and get all the goodies and favors.

  3. I think the Jubilee merger is the right thing to do for the nation. What is your opinion on this?

    • It is not the first time Kenyan politicians have tried to merge many small and big parties to form one. NARC is the best example. In 2002, NARC won against KANU because of the merger. It is true that no one can rule Kenya without forming strong alliances with other parties. Remember that NARC fell a part with its leaders forming other parties. That is how Orange Democratic Movement became a party. Then its rival Party for National Unity was formed by the President to challenge ODM in 2007 elections. In 2013, TNA and URP had to form an alliance to stop ODM, Ford Kenya, and Wiper from taking the government. The former formed Jubilee Alliance while the latter formed CORD alliance. Jubilee took the government. Wrangles of how to assign supporters to government offices became a big headache and a reason to dissolve the alliance. Keeping the same name Jubilee, Jubilee Alliance Party was registered to prevent TNA and URP from another split. This can only be done by dissolving the parties in the alliance and to join one party with one leader. It is a merger. Only CORD remains in the alliance fearing that history might repeat itself. No merger has ever worked in Kenya and such parties fall-off at the time of nominations. It is not easy to accommodate all leaders in the government without creating some bad feeling. Alliance is also difficult since the choosing of flag bearer becomes polemical for political divide. Either way is risky but there is no any other way.

  4. It is dangerous to mix state affairs with a political party. The state should be distinct and far separate from any political party. The best bad example is what transpires in Zimbabwe when the ZANU party is the government and the state at the same time. Distribution of state relief food is only given to ZANU affiliates and strongholds leaving the other citizens crying foul. In Kenya, KANU party used its state powers to punish whoever was not in the party. Jubilee Party has declared that whoever is not int he party is not in the development trail and will not access government contracts. This is a very dangerous direction leaders are taking.

    • The Constitution is very clear. The sovereignty of the constitution is with the Kenyan people. This is distinct from any political party. Human rights also puts it very clear under the Bill of Rights. All citizens have the right to be served by the government. A political party is not a state organ or an arm of government. Whoever says that those who are not in the party shall not access state jobs is making a constitutional error. No any party in Kenya whether ODM, JP or any other outfit can claim authority over the state. Thanks for this important comment.

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