As Kenya’s August 9 general elections draw closer, political parties and coalitions have completed the nomination of their candidates for a range of elected posts. The parties had until April 2 to complete the process and submit the names of the winning candidates to the Independent Electoral and Boundary Commission for approval. While the nominations appear to be a small improvement over the 2017 experience, they did little to strengthen Kenyan democracy with less violence and chaos.
In most cases, the coalition parties were behind the opposition leader who Establishment candidates Raila Odinga did not hold primary elections but used ‘direct’ nominations, much to the chagrin of those who were overlooked. The parties behind Odinga’s main rival, Vice President William Ruto, held more primaries, but again there was controversy and numerous angry “losers”. As a result, both Ruto and Odinga faced a major challenge: how to prevent lost candidates from defecting and running as independents.
In response, coalition leaders spent the post-nomination period frantically hectic ones calling those who feel cheated offer them a range of rewards for staying loyal to them, including the promise of tenders, appointment to cabinet or state commissions, nomination to legislatures, ambassadorial roles, and plain old money.
It is well known that the nomination of candidates for some government positions is heavily influenced by the realities of coalitions and not by the skills and qualifications of individuals. It is worrying that this trend is spreading to regional institutions as well.
Party leaders are now using the promise of seats in the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) to buy disgruntled leaders. A case in point is Ruto’s promise to give Charles Kanyi (Jaguar) a seat in EALA if he relinquishes the Starehe constituency race in favor of Simon Mbugua. It is striking evidence of how this political cycle works that Mbugua was nominated for EALA in 2017 after being persuaded by the Jubilee Party leadership to resign in favor of Yusuf Hassan in the Kamukunji primary.
Such deals are the lifeblood of Kenyan electoral politics, but undermine accountability and entrench business – and thus potentially corrupt practices – at the heart of Kenya’s state and regional government.
EALA is an independent arm of the East African community, to advance the interests of the bloc and provide oversight. Each EAC partner state sends nine members to the assembly. Political parties have been accused of nominating politicians who lost out in the nominations or their relatives for the regional body.
This is not only happening in Kenya. A similar scenario is playing out in Uganda, where political parties also reward EALA “refusals”.
In 2017, the candidates put forward to EALA for nomination were mostly members of the ruling National Resistance Movement (NRM ). had lost in the 2016 general election. This practice drew criticism in Uganda, leading President Yoweri Museveni to state that EALA was not an “employment agency” for political jobseekers. Museveni tried to shift the blame by saying, “This election is just an election; Elections are not employment agencies that you are here to give work to the unemployed, but people who support the integration process.”
The problem Museveni faces is, even with the practice of using such nominations wants to end for patronage he may not. Faced with a growing challenge from the opposition championed by Bobi Wine and the risk that the NRM could begin to fragment during the process to replace him – if he ever resigns – Museveni knows full well that buying disappointed candidates for the survival of his regime is vital.
More broadly, the practice of making politics with nominations for legislative bodies such as EALA is problematic because it sacrifices regional interests at the expense of the personal desires of politicians from whom many have been overlooked for good reason. As one of Africa’s fastest growing regions, which requires a more unified and effective approach to issues such as infrastructure and food security, this is a major shortage that urgently needs to be addressed.
There is an urgent need to improve nomination processes for the EALA to be transparent so that the nominees understand the key issues facing the region and are accountable to their citizens. The nomination process is said to involve a rigorous screening of potential candidates with a strict set of minimum requirements.
Some of these already exist in Uganda, where nominees must appear before Parliament to run their applications, but could be further strengthened to accommodate a wider range of individuals.
In countries like Kenya, these procedures have been significantly watered down, undermining the process and the credibility of the representatives it produces.
The required Changes are not only related to the selection. Once in place, it is important to ensure ongoing performance evaluation throughout their five-year tenure to assess their commitment and contribution and weed out incompetent representatives.
But even these changes may not be enough if they are political Leaders continue to view positions as entitlements rather than something to be earned. It is the practice of paying off losing candidates that is the ultimate driver of the nomination game – and the quality of national administration and regional leadership is unlikely to improve until this is brought under control.
Oscar Ochieng is Communications Practitioner and Darmi Jattani is Public Analyst.