Thursday, September 22, 2022

The camouflage of solutionism

I once said this about the Ukweli Party of Kenya: The Ukweli Party isn't unique in this regard. It is merely one more piece of evidence that not even civil society stalwarts have broken from he neoliberalism that many claim to challenge. Instead of building a true political party, supported by its members, active in the community, its founders bought a briefcase, slapped a made-in-Kenya label on it, identified a few vocal civil society faces to stand in a few visible parliamentary elections, and flamed out without a whimper. No one can even remember its officials from 2017.

I was trying, badly, to make the point that solutionism - the overweening narcissism that defines the Third Sector - has so ingrained itself in the political discourse of this country that every political messiah believes that only he can save Kenya and for him to save Kenya, he must register his own political party without, crucially, having the patience to actually build a political movement that a party may represent. In the just-ended general election, it was alleged that because Kenyan political parties are ideology-free zones, it explained voter apathy and a below-average voter turnout, especially in the presidential election. Respectfully, I think this theory, and its corollaries, are horseshit.

The Registrar of Political Parties' records indicate that Kenya has over eighty registered political parties. I would be shocked if Kenyans were able to name ten. Azimio One Kenya Alliance had over twenty constituent parties. I'd be surprised if we could name five. The National Super Alliance that fronted Raila Odinga and Musalia Mudavadi in 2017 remains but an ephemeral image in the mind of a dedicated few while the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy that fronted Raila Odinga and Kilonzo Musyoka in 2013, has been erased from memory. None of the coalitions, from CORD to NASA to Azimio had done the necessary work of building a political movement to promote the political goals of a people; they were mere reflections of the political ambitions of one man who has unsuccessfully sought ultimate political power since 1997.

This is not to say that The National Alliance, the Jubilee Party of Kenya, or Kenya Kwanza, reflect the ideals of a political movement. The victories of their presidential candidates has nothing to do with ideological co-operation among the coalitions' members; merely the consequences of thirty years of ethnic engineering designed to win elections without building robust political institutions.

Ukweli Party attempted to swim in this cesspool. It, and similar also-ran political outfits long since dumped in the rubbish bin of history, are a reflection that civil society campaigners have abandoned the hard graft of political institution-building, for the quick-wins language of their "donors" and "partners". It is a powerpoint approach to political re-engineering: boardrooms full of committed activists who have given up on the outside world who have decided to "do something" and that something, it turns out, is to register a political party, spend a bunch of money of search-engine optimisation and similar internet dark works, pay for thousands of t-shirts, shukas and umbrellas, traverse select large towns on the backs of semi-trailers blasting Amapiano and Sauti Sol out of over-priced rented PA systems and accompanied by skimpily-clad "youth" who have been paid to gyrate suggestively to the quite-often incomprehensible music, without actually engaging with the people they intend to lead on the political questions they want addressed: unemployment, poor educational outcomes, affordable housing and healthcare, people-based policing, food security and human dignity.

Of course the law on political parties is badly written. It makes it near-impossible for upstarts like the Ukweli Party to mobilise on a national scale before registration. But that is only part of the challenge. The other part is that the sponsors of the Ukweli Party, like their other failed counterparts, did not start out with a full deck to begin with. There is no evidence that outside of the Nairobi enclave where the party emerged, Ukweli Party had representatives (or even a poster) in places like Kargi in Marsabit, Rodi Kopany in Kisumu, Matuu in Kitui, Rongai in Nakuru, Sacho in Baringo or Hola in Tana River. It existed solely in the briefcase being its certificate of registration and it failed in its mission because voters are not binders of documents to be carted about by earnest-but-misguided activists.

One piece of proof that these outfits are meaningless has to do with the aftermath of general elections. None of them, not even the parties or coalitions that successfully send candidates to State House, Parliament and county assemblies, ever hold party post-mortems to interrogate their performance in the general election or to address the legislative and policy agenda of the party for adoption by the parties' general membership. The past two weeks has witnessed parliamentary party group meetings only, as if the coalition or political parties are composed solely of elected representatives. The people, represented by the elected politicians, have already faded from public view, and their political views carry as much weight as a puff of smoke. It is why when parties like Ukweli flame out at the polls, they begin the rapid process of fading from public view. They were never intended to be real political parties but merely vehicles for a few men and women to stick their noses in the trough put out by the National Treasury for the lucky few, in the parlance of one of Ukweli's loudest stalwarts, MPigs.

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