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Kenya: Jubilee Party, uniting or dividing Kenyans?

Isaac Mugabi
September 9, 2016

Thirteen political parties under the ruling Jubilee Coalition will on Saturday merge and launch one party, the Jubilee Party ahead of the Kenyan elections in 2017.


With the slogan, "Tuko Pamoja" a Swahili word meaning "we are together", leaders of The National Alliance (TNA), United Republican Party (URP), United Democratic Front (UDF) and other small parties, settled on a new party on whose ticket they will use to contest the next elections.

The slogan carries the message of unity which Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto have always emphasized at different forums. For many years, Kenya has been bogged down by tribalism and splits within political parties which ended in bloody post-election violence in 2008.

According to Martin Oloo, a lawyer and political analyst, members of the Jubilee Coalition wanted to have less rivalry and less division within the different party ranks. Therefore, the only way was to break up all the small parties and form one big party.

"They have learnt that when you have a coalition you tend to have people pulling around all the time in the interests of their individual parties rather than the interests of the coalition," Oloo said. "And perhaps they are trying to lock in their supporters so that in the event of an election they have little to worry about."

Social media users have taken to Facebook and Twitter to applaud the merge. The hashtag #JubileePartyGrandLaunch has also been trending.

Challenges ahead

The biggest challenge will be whether the Jubilee Party can co-exist away from tribal divisions and selfish interests as well mobilizing its supporters at the grassroots levels.

According to Oloo, there has never been any attempt by any party to build structures right from the bottom. As a result, many ordinary Kenyans are often not informed about activities of parties that they support, leading to more disintegration.

"Bringing Kenyans together can only be wishful thinking. We cannot bring together more than three parties together and expect to last long."

For Patrick Gathara, Kenyan political analyst, commentator and satirist, merging these parties together makes no difference at all.

"It is just a political arrangement and a convenient one given the remaining time to the elections next year," Gathara said.

"For instance, in 2007 Mwai Kibaki merged parties and formed the Party of National Unity where he turned out to be the only candidate for the party," he said.

It's a trend in Kenyan politics that big parties swallow the small ones to gain more leverage and win the next election with much ease.

DW's Chrispin Mwakideu who has been following events in Kenya closely, thinks the latest development is a step backwards in terms of democratic gains the country has made in recent years. "If you have one dominant political party like was the case during the KANU era, there will not be any accountability," Mwakideu said.

"On the other hand, if the main opposition led by former Prime Minister Raila Odinga chooses to unite and also become one party, then we are bound to have a scenario similar in the US where Republicans are pitted against the Democrats."

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