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He who pays the piper calls the tune

By Matunda Nyanchama
Toronto Ontario
February 12, 2007

The Kenyan parliament should move quickly to pass the proposed political parties bill, which among others provides for tax payer funding forpolitical parties. The bill’s passing will offer a life-line for Kenyanpolitical parties and (hopefully) prepare the country for a more stableparty system than we have seen to date.

Aside from KANU, which has been around since independence, most of the current parties remain transient vehicles for political competition and power grab. In fact, Kanu’s days could be numbered with its decision to join ODM-Kenya.

We should not mourn the death of parties, especially those in the Kenyan political system. These parties only seem as vehicles for attainment of power for those that have their control, which controls arises from those that bankroll them.

A case in point is the recent fiasco in Kanu that saw Nicolas Biwott and his team “sweep” to the helm of Kanu! Here thousands of “delegates” drawn from across the country, converged in Mombasa at a “National Delegates Conference” to “elect” new officials. Their travel, food, accommodation and travel expenses were paid by someone for sure!

A few weeks earlier, another Kanu National Delegates Conference had gathered in Nairobi and elected Uhuru Kenyatta to lead it! This gathering also had delegates from across the country. As well, their travel, food, accommodation and out of pocket spending was paid for by someone.

Both events required huge sums of money to organize. However, no one has come forward to say who funded these conferences.  No one has accounted for how these gathering were funded! Political parties seek to exercise power on our behalf. It is important for us all to know the source of their moneys!

A few months later there would be a number of retreats in Naivasha for both ODM-Kenya and NARC-Kenya, the two that have emerged as the key protagonists in the forthcoming elections.

Once more, no once as accounted for how these events were paid for. And Kenyans seem least concerned about the matter! This is while the chattering class complains about lack of democracy in the country!

There is more.

Following ODM-Kenya’s retreat, there were concerns about conducting grassroots elections and holding primaries to elect the party’s presidential candidate. Some of its leaders openly mulled about seeking foreign financing to deal with the financial shortfalls.

Coming as it does more than 40 years since independence, we should be ashamed of this state of affairs. If we Kenyans are serious about our political future, we should and must not rely on external financing for our political destiny for we know that he who pays the piper calls the tune!

Independence is about singing our own tune. It also means that we should and must learn to fund our political activities, including financing party meetings, conventions and policy retreats. And this requires that parties grow their grassroots base to assure not simply moral and political support but also financial support.

There are more than 20 million Kenyan adults. If 15 million of these belong to one party or the other, it is possible that (a) membership fees could bring in substantial chunks of money for parties and (b) many of these members, through party activities, sale of party artifacts, etc. can raise substantial amounts of money for their parties.

The political party system has, in part, failed to realize these grassroots reach because the leaders care less about Wanjiku. Instead, we live with backroom deals that usually end up as dishonoured MOUs and which then become campaign excuses against former allies.

There is more.

The Kenyan political parties are largely determined by ethnicity and the numerical strength of ethnic numbers usually determines who wins power. It is not uncommon to hear political leaders arguing that it is “our turn”. This is unfortunate considering the debilitating effects of ethnicity and its negative manifestation as tribalism. And Kenyans need to wake to the reality that unless and until we transcend this handicap we will continue to languish in development.

The need to develop parties as institutions has never been greater. We live in a complex world of competing interests both nationally and globally. Solutions to problems such as crime, health care, education, security, etc. are dependent on sound policy options aimed at attaining desired outcomes. This then requires parties to create platforms that would offer Kenyans alternative approaches to tackling challenges.

This is what would be expected of parties in mature political systems. In such mature systems, one would expect political parties to have a process for creating party platforms, followed by a party convention to ratify the platforms.

In Kenya, when political party barrons gather, it is to divvy up power, not to talk about creating a better Kenya for Wanjiku. They don’t gather to discuss economic blueprints, infrastructure policies or even how to tackle crime. Their gathering focuses solely on power plays and sharing the spoils of power. It is a shame!

This shame extends to the rest of the Kenyans as well. Having been used to a system of dependence, they cannot think beyond that! We have a wonderful system and legacy of Harambee. Kenyans build schools, churches, educated children, bought land and other properties, bought furniture and livestock, and many more things using Harambee. Yet we are reluctant to invest in where our political convictions lie.

Case in point: reports suggest that Kenyans abroad sent home close to U$1billion! Now that is a good chunk of change! Suppose we dug into our pockets and put a side even 10% of that for political action. That would be $100 million dollars! Add (say) an equivalent amount raised through grassroots activism!

Just imagine what such money would buy for us in shaping our country.

We would sponsor candidates that are more in tune with our aspirations and future hopes. We would use the money to advertise and ensure that Kenyans become informed when choosing their candidates. We would demystify issues that are kept obscure by the archaic political class that dominates the Kenyan politics. In a nutshell, we would shape the direction and future of the country.

And we, Kenyans, would be the piper calling the tune for the country’s future!

Moreover, we would stop moaning about the intransigence of the political class and lack of advancement in our motherland.

© February 12, 2007, Matunda Nyanchama


Matunda Nyanchama, a Canadian-based information security professional, is a past President of the Kenyan Community Abroad (KCA). He can be reached at

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