The management of public affairs in Kenya continues to scale new heights every day, and with the new constitution in its implementation stage, the future is very promising. Amid this improvement in management of public affairs is the emergence of various individuals and groups who believe they are well-placed to be entrusted with the management of public affairs— and here we are, particularly, talking about political parties. In view of these developments, the National Muslim Leaders Forum (Namlef) has formally announced the formation of a political party named Unity Party of Kenya (UPK), thus plunging themselves in the arena of battle as a group that would be seeking the mandate to manage Kenya’s public affairs.
According to the Namlef leadership, the decision to form UPK was reached at after a consultative meeting within the Forum itself and where political developments in the country were discussed, especially in view of the forthcoming general election. The meeting brought together Imams, opinion leaders, scholars and representatives of various mosques across the country. Among the pertinent issues discussed was the welfare of the Muslim community and their role in the unfolding political events ahead of the next elections. “After analysis and active exchanges on the past Muslim political discourses including the issue surrounding the now defunct MoU with the ODM party leader…, the meeting called for the unity of Muslims and in particular during the upcoming general elections,” a statement from Namlef said.
To consolidate the Muslim vote into a bloc, the Namlef meeting resolved to endorse UPK as their political party of choice and Nominated MP, Sheikh Muhammad Dor, announced that he would vie for the Mvita parliamentary seat on a UPK ticket.
“The UPK manifesto resonates well with the aspirations of Muslims and other marginalized communities including the youth, disabled, women, nomadic communities and others across the Kenyan society,” the statement added. Namlef’s move to form a political party is laudable, and their vision to make the Muslim vote count in Kenya’s democratization process is, particularly, encouraging. However, a lot of caution is needed when forming and engaging with a political party of this nature. Why? Because the constitution of Kenya, which Muslims actively participated in its making and later voted for at the referendum, prohibits the formation of political parties based on religious or ethnic affiliations. From Namlef’s own statements, it looks like UPK has been formed to purely push the Muslim agenda— an agenda that is bound to call to question the legality of this party, its noble intentions notwithstanding. The Namlef leadership has, however, been quick to point out that UPK has complied with all the legal requirements appertaining to the formation and running of political parties, saying that the party has a national outlook. But while we don’t question the sincerity of those behind this party, the point that comes out clearly is that UPK met all the registration requirements like any other political party and Namlef simply took over the party thereafter— this is typical of Kenyan way of running political parties.
However, problems arise when one realizes that the Namlef meeting that endorsed UPK was very selective and lacked a national outlook. In fact, the meeting was composed of Muslim scholars, imams and representatives of mosques— meaning it was a purely a Muslim affair. Hence, if the Namlef fraternity is the core of UPK, then there is no way this party can still claim to have a national outlook. The reason we call for caution towards UPK is not because we are malicious, but because we care about Muslim participation in Kenyan politics— we should avoid creating a situation where Muslims will be perceived as a community that wants to isolate themselves by forming a political party that exclusively pursues their agenda. In this regard, if UPK wants to be credible, its leaders should demonstrate that they have a national agenda and not a sectarian one. They should be seen, both in deeds and words, to be pursuing national cohesion and unity. It would, therefore, be important for UPK leaders and other people who have formed political parties to acquaint themselves with the following definitions. The first definition is that of the term ‘politics’ itself. Politics refers to the activities involved in getting and using power in public life, and being able to influence decisions that affect a county or a society of civilized people. The next important definition that people who form political parties should acquaint themselves with is that of the term ‘political’— which refers to matters connected with state, government or public affairs. Then, of course, there is the term “political party”— which refers to a group of people who share common ideas on how a government or public affairs should be managed. In view of the foregoing definitions, it is perfectly correct for the Namlef leadership to engage in politics because they wish to pursue activities that would influence decisions that positively affect the Muslim community— for this, Namlef deserves the support of all well-intentioned Kenyans. However, matters may be a bit complicated when Namlef convert themselves into a political party because the term “political party” refers to a group of people who share common ideas about how a government should be managed.
Now, assuming that UPK, Namlef’s political vehicle, has an Islamic perspective of running government, how will the rest of Kenyans who are not Muslims receive this party? And if UPK takes over the government at the next general election, how will its leadership strike a balance between pursuing the Muslim agenda and the agenda of the rest of Kenyans? It is because of such vexing questions that the constitution has barred the formation of political parties based on religion, ethnic affiliation or gender divide. And because Kenya is a multi-ethnic and multi-religious society, Namlef’s formation of UPK is bound to raise unnecessary inter-religious suspicion. This is why the Namlef leadership should have consulted widely before coming up with the resolution to endorse UPK as the political vehicle through which to champion the welfare of the Muslim community in Kenya.