Kenya’s political system was technically restored to democracy with the repealing of Section 2A of the Constitution in 1992. But some attitudes and practices of the one-party period persist and it has been difficult to make the government accountable, end the culture of impunity and eliminate corruption. Political parties are therefore very important in modern government for advancing democracy. Kenya however needs a “consensus” or liberal type of democracy as our society has different cultures and religions. Liberal democracy offers a better option as it limits executive power by a constitution, protects the rights of individuals, and limits a leader’s power and the extent to which the will of the majority can be imposed on minorities. In any case, whichever form of democracy we choose, they all involve people voting. And so voters need some way of knowing how candidates will vote on legislation and the best way to do that so far is through political parties. Unfortunately, Kenyan parties do not work too well. They seem to form just to rally support around individuals who are trying to get into power and they dissolve at the drop of a hat.
Political parties are supposed to be formed around long-term issues like US Republican party that was set up to oppose the extension of slavery into a part of the US where it had been outlawed. Activists, not people already in power came together in conventions to nominate candidates who would fight against that and similar issues. And that’s exactly how political parties should work. They should represent groups of people sharing the same basic beliefs and values; maybe a particular moral view or a broad vision of society such as free market or redistribution of wealth, or a belief that business should be supported by tariffs, tax incentives or the regulation of competition. Parties form in order to influence political development. They nominate candidates to publicize their views; their members help shape policy by debating party policies, developing the party programme and electing executive committees. Party candidates obey the rules of the party and must be loyal to the party programme. Parties must have a political philosophy and policies researched right down to their detailed impact on the economy and individual communities. In countries like the UK and US, MPs rarely change parties, because to do so suggests that one has no principles. Turncoat MPs generally never get re-elected as voters do not trust MPs who do not have clear, established convictions. They support a party’s principles, not individuals. So, for example, the Democratic Party in US, lobbies for better education, lower taxes for working families, affordable healthcare, reserving the environment and protecting citizens’ rights.
Properly functioning political parties are the key to Kenya having an effective government and prosperous nation. Communities should influence policy and voters know a candidate’s stand on particular issues. Without this kind of basis for choosing between candidates, the only criterion available is that of “he or she is from my home.”
Party members will also have to responsive and accountable. In fact, modern democracy is impossible without effective political parties, so that is what we need to create in Kenya to introduce new thinking into government. This would ensure government policies actually benefit the ordinary voter.