Kenya as a still young African Democracy does not yet have clear ideological political alliances. Current political alliances are very much along tribal lines, unfortunately.
That is not to say that there is no semblance of ideology at all visible in the political leanings but they remain largely undefined. Uhuru Kenyatta for example has made many pro-business pronouncements. For example he has pointed out that the role of government is one of creating an opportunity for private enterprise to improve the lives of people. This line of thinking is very much in line with Republican ideology in the United States. Raila was educated in communist East Germany and has oftentimes espoused socialist leaning ideology. It is not quite so simple however to draw clear political lines. Both parties espouse strong religious leanings, both have made a push for huge infrastructure projects and both seek to attract direct foreign investment. However in line with Republican style thinking, NASA has questioned the wisdom of infrastructure spending, questioning how it will be paid for.
However, when it comes to political strategy, the Jubilee Party is much more comparable to the Democrats while the tactics of Raila Odinga and the NASA coalition are very similar to Republican tactics of political warfare.
Uhuru Kenyatta who’s recent Presidential election win was nullified by the Supreme Court of Kenya (SCoK) has been back on the campaign trail since the day of the nullification. The Kenyan president, a graduate of the prestigious Dartmouth University in Massachusetts is a highly eloquent and articulate technocrat who has hunkered down and worked hard pursuing an ambitious development agenda.
You would think that this would have led to sky-high approval ratings and a landslide win against his opponent Raila Odinga, Kenya’s one time Prime Minister. Instead he enjoys only slightly over 50% support (he won the August 8th election with a 54% majority), with Raila pulling about 40% support of the population.
While Uhuru enjoys majority support, and despite his positive development agenda, his opponent has managed to out-politic the president with an extremely effective propaganda campaign that has succeeded in encumbering every move by the jubilee govt. Uhuru and the government enjoy very little in the way of accolades for their accomplishments.
This I, would strongly argue is because the Jubilee Party has ignored the need and importance of an effective, constant and sustained public relations and media communications campaign. The JP seems to believe that the population will reward them for their development agenda. This is a major miscalculation especially in the hyper-partisan environment of the free multi-party democracy that is now Kenya. The opposition has effectively exploited any weaknesses and perceptions of the JP to their advantage. Fairly or unfairly, the JP has been seen to be either soft on corruption at best or deliberately turning a blind eye to the vice at worst. This, the opposition has been able to use against the government very effectively, accusing the government of corruption at every turn and during every single development project thus neutralizing any goodwill that would have been enjoyed from such projects.
This is not unlike the situation for Barack Obama and his Democratic Party during the Obama years where Republicans managed to tarnish everything Obama touched despite much of his agenda being quite positive for the American people. Like Democrats, Uhuru and his JP have maintained that the opposition can afford to be reckless because they don’t have the responsibility of governing and holding the country together. While this is partly true, it falls short because indeed we see that the sustained and consistent Republican messaging has been effective for Republicans going back decades and continuing to date with the Trump administration. Similarly when you watch Kenya’s opposition, their messaging is consistent and sustained. They lie with impunity and consistency and change their stories at will, but this has not cost them their sycophantic support.
Kenya’s opposition has perfected the Republican art of double speak and lying with impunity. This is despite the fact that just like the Republicans, the Kenyan opposition’s track record is an awful one of failure, wanton recklessness and shameless self-interest. Raila Odinga’s ODM Party has never had democratic elections. Their elections have been marred with rigging and violence, and the NASA coalition similarly has shown no interest or ability to be democratic. Yet, their 40% support has remained pretty much intact. Hate is an extremely powerful emotion and the NASA leader has succeeded to stoke tribal and ethnic suspicion into full blown tribal hatred that has now brought Kenya very much to the brink of largescale tribal conflict. Similarly, we saw an election where hate propelled now President Trump to power despite all manner of misgivings even from his own party.
Kenya’s NASA party has been at the forefront of the Americanization of the Kenyan political environment with many of the leaders having been at the forefront of Kenya’s current American style constitution. It should be noted that the American Constitution allows a candidate to win an election while losing the popular vote as we saw with Trump. I can’t help wondering if this isn’t something else that Raila would very much like to duplicate in Kenya given that his support base is quite simply smaller than that of President Uhuru.