The great puzzle for those of us who have worked on “democracy promotion” or “democracy support” in Kenya has been whether there is something that can be done to assist Kenyans in building meaningful, coherent political parties that are more than amorphous vehicles for individual ambitions and a “tribal” spoils system. The record in this regard has been discouraging. When I was with IRI in 2007-08, one of my European counterparts of long experience explained that his organization had concluded that the effort was simply not fruitful and resources were better spent in other areas.
At this point I am afraid that we see some history repeating itself. TNA is having difficulties with the inattention of its titular leader, President Kenyatta. It is not hard to see TNA now as simply a vessel for Uhuru’s campaign, a means that he created to line up his core Kikuyu support when, supposedly, there was significant sentiment among the elites to find alternatives due to the difficulties of the ICC charges, and even the notion that it might be safer to chose Mudavadi or someone else who was an amenable insider but a member of another tribe. Certainly Uhuru’s record as a party builder is not encouraging. After being tapped as KANU leader by Moi in 2002 and losing to Kibaki he kept leadership of the party (with Ruto as a Secretary General) and was one of the leading figures in the formation of the Orange Democratic Movement as leader of the Official Opposition in Parliament, campaigning against the “Wako Draft” constitution in Central Province during the November 2005 referendum.
Nonetheless, as things were shaking out to nominate a presidential candidate for the ODM side in the second half of 2007, Uhuru made the unprecedented move as leader of the parliamentary opposition to cross over to support Kibaki’s re-election. Moi also announced his support for Kibaki in this time frame. Uhuru kept formal control of KANU but the party was gutted as most of the potential KANU voters in the Rift Valley went with Raila, along with Ruto who formally joined ODM, contested for the nomination there and served as a key figure in the “Pentagon”. Then Uhuru himself struck out to form TNA for the 2012-13 race.