Friday, December 23, 2005

The SDP experiment

A couple of years back the leadership at the Social Democratic Party of Kenya (SDP) – Apollo Njonjo, Anyang Nyongo – brought in to Kenyan politics a novel and bold idea. Separate the party leadership from the popularly elected politicians. A member of parliament could, therefore, not hold an office in the party structures etc… etc…This was a system akin to what American parties have, where there is a separate leadership for the Republican National Committee (RNC), Democratic National Committee (DNC) and other leaders (e.g. House, Senate, State etc) For, example, Ken Mehlman heads the Republican party, (though when one party holds the white house, the president is deemed to be the titular head of the party) while Howard Dean heads the democrats.

The dream of a separated party and political structure fizzled when Ms. Ngilu decamped from the party and joined the National Party of Kenya, in yet another installment of political musical chairs in Kenya. The dream was in deed a bold statement, but one wonder – with the current problems the Democrats are facing in America – whether the system would have been workable.

The democrats are today a party that does not seem to have direction, or any coordinated agenda. Dean may be the head of the DNC, but he can do little to coordinate positions with Pelosi in the House, or Reid in the Senate. Consider the Democrat’s “policy” in Iraq, we have some calling for immediate withdrawal, others stay the course and others with no definite position, or taking a wait and see approach. There seems to be no clear voice of the Democratic Party. The discord is so loud that Republicans can use Dean’s words to argue that Democrats believe the war cannot be won. Many have argued that the Democrats need to come up with a “contract for America” to show Americans that they do indeed have a positive agenda for the country, but this seems not to be happening, the democrats are simply playing the gadfly.

With the above in mind, and the musical chairs that is Kenyan politics, it would seem that the SDP experiment may have had significant challenges even if the party agreed to separate the party leadership from the political leaders. In a country where politics is little more than a ‘personality cults’ and parties based on expediency and not ideals/ideology, it would seem that a system derived from the American context would not fair well.


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