August 19th 2017

Top Stories / 2017 Elections

Jubilee Party facing widespread rejection amid worries leaders 'have run out of ideas'

“What this talk confirms is that the views of other Kenyans, our worries about corruption and ethnicity, it all doesn’t matter, the two tribes have the sole right to rule Kenya. These people think they are smart, but smart people sometimes run out of ideas. We could be looking at one such situation.

By Free Press Reporternewsdesk@kenyafreepress.comWednesday, 02 Nov 2016 13:58 EAT

President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto at the Jubilee Party's launch in September.

The Jubilee Party will finally name its interim officials this Friday November 4, according to a report attributed to Nominated MP Johnson Sakaja, a former chairman of The National Alliance, the largest of the 11 political parties that merged into Jubilee on September 10. The delay in naming the 77 officials to run the party triggered speculation that President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto were deeply divided on the appointments.

In the meantime, the party whose launch was heralded as the beginning of a renewed effort by the Jubilee leaders to unite the country has faced mass rejection barring the home turfs of Uhuru and Ruto. This week, two ODM MPs whose defection to Jubilee was celebrated as a breakthrough sought ‘forgiveness’ in their former party, while elsewhere smaller parties are springing up in regions Jubilee leaders consider their strongholds. 

Weeks after Jubilee's launch, when the party was still revelling in the defections it had received, this website reported about the hostility by Ukambani voters against the region's defectors which was forcing the leaders to reevaluate their positions. Two weeks later, the Sunday Nation carried a full page article on the same phenomenon, but to this day no media platform has reported on the sweeping rejection of the new party and how it has, far from being the panacea for ethnicity, come to be seen widely as a tool of two ethnic groups.

Jubilee's first test came through last week's by-elections in Turkana, Kisii, Kajiado and Tana River counties. Notwithstanding massive resources it poured in the campaigns, the party lost badly in Kisii, Turkana and Kajiado where it needs to do well if it is to win next year’s elections. In Kisii, ordinary voters turned wild against leaders who associated with the new party. At one polling station, the MP for Kitutu Chache South, Richard Onyonka, who had defected from ODM, was forcefully ejected by youths baying for his blood. Another leader from South Mugirango was arrested and handed over to the police for buying votes on Jubilee’s behalf.

In light of the events, it was no surprise that the ODM candidate won the by-election handily, beating his Jubilee opponent by a margin of 2:1, yet no one could have foreseen the dramatic return by Onyonka and his Bomachoge Chache counterpart Simon Ogari, who had also earlier defected to Jubilee. It was quite a spectacle to see the MPs declare their loyalty to a party they had belittled in their supposed good days in Jubilee.

In Turkana, the ODM candidate Josephat Ekeno won handily in spite of intense intimidation, including an attack on his home the night before the election by armed gangs who shot two of his daughters. The ODM candidate won in Kajiado too, despite reported voter bribery. Like in Kisii, a number of elected Maasai leaders from Kajiado and Narok counties have declined overtures to join the party.

The sole seat won by Jubilee, in Madogo District in Bura, Tana River, was not an open contest. The seat had fallen vacant following the death of an MCA who had won on Mazingira Party. The MCA’s daughter sought to succeed her dad on the Jubilee ticket. ODM leaders didn't even campaign there, and neither did Wiper Democratic Movement leaders. Even though both CORD parties were represented on the ballot, their candidates were considered alsorans from the start.

Beyond the by-election outcomes, the party faces opposition from many elected leaders from Meru County, where it is increasingly portrayed as an outfit for Senator Kiraitu Murungu, women representative Florence Kajuju and a handful of other leaders with connections to the national government. Governor Peter Munya took over the Party of National Unity last week, launching a robust insurgency against Jubilee in the region. His deputy Raphael Muriungi, who will seek to regain his previous Igembe South parliamentary seat, also has dodged Jubilee, picking on the Democratic Party.

A similar atmosphere obtains in Western Kenya, which Mr Ruto has visited frequently to campaign for the party ostensibly because the Luyia people, 'known for dividing their votes', would give Jubilee its share in a general election. But the leading Jubilee catch from Luyialand, Mumias PM Benjamin Washiali, surprisingly declared yesterday that he would support the re-election of Kakamega governor Wycliffe Oparanya, who is ODM vice chairman.

It is in the former Central Province and Nakuru, Uasin Gishu, Kericho, Nandi, Elgeyo Marakwet and Bomet counties where more leaders have welcomed Jubilee Party than opposed it. Pockets of resistance are however evident in Bomet, West Pokot and Baringo where, despite Mr Ruto's big following, Kanu and Chama Cha Mashinana are leading an unexpectedly forceful onslaught against Jubilee.

There is no easy explanation for this unprecedented resistance to a party backed by the government. In trying to understand the depth of this phenomenon, the Kenya Free Press contacted political experts. Some saw the challenge as part of problems associated with building new institutions. "It takes time for people to internalise and embrace new things. With a party, it is even harder," she said.

The expert said that Kenyan leaders don't give much attention to political parties when they are in power, until elections are around the corner: "Every day you see the media referring to political parties as 'election vehicles'. This casual phrasing underlies the hard truth that politicians need the parties strictly for purposes of elections. If you need to travel to Mombasa by bus, you don't have to use the same bus back to Nairobi. It is the same with election vehicles, you use one to run for office, abandon it until the next election when you can take another one," she said.

One junior Jubilee insider hinted that the rejection of Jubilee arose from dissonance between the president and his deputy, about which many top leaders were aware. He said that the formation of the Jubilee Party was Ruto's idea, seeing in it an opportunity to manage the Uhuru succession. According to the source, the DP “isn’t even thinking about the 2017 election but his own presidency from 2022”. The source explained that the DP wants in party positions individuals who would be useful in 2022 "rather than in the tough contest that Uhuru faces next year."

This is a view that apparently runs deep in the pro-Uhuru camp where there is a belief about a supposed contradiction between Uhuru’s and Ruto’s interests that has escalated over the past year and now imperils the president's re-election efforts. In an op-ed in The Star analysing Jubilee's ability to win in 2017, former TNA activist Machel Waikenda said the president is facing the challenge of simultaneously running two elections. "Those in Jubilee seem more focused on who will compete with the Deputy President in 2022, instead of focusing on 2017. On the other side, the opposition appears focused and moving full steam towards the 2017 general election to deny Jubilee outright victory."

According to another analyst, the talk on 2022 elections is a major source of Jubilee’s estrangement with Kenyans from outside Kikuyu and Kalenjin areas. A professor of political science explained that it had become difficult for the party to attract non-Kikuyu and Kalenjin support when its stated ideology, as seen in declarations about the 2022 elections, is that the two tribes will dominate political power for twenty years.

“Rightly or wrongly, what this talk confirms is that the views of other Kenyans, our worries about corruption and ethnicity, it all doesn’t matter, the two tribes have the sole right to rule Kenya,” he said, adding, “These people think they are smart, but smart people sometimes run out of ideas. We could be looking at one such situation."

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