Magazine article New African

A Party for the Ages?

Magazine article New African

A Party for the Ages?

Article excerpt

[ILLUSTRATION OMITTED]

With less than a year to go before the next elections, the merger of the Jubilee coalition was meant to project a united front among its uneasy partners. But trouble brews beneath the surface. Christine Mungai reports, amid the din and fireworks of the launch in Nairobi.

Moi International Sports Stadium, Kasarani, was the scene of a grand political jamboree this September, as the Jubilee Party was launched to much pomp and fanfare. The new party formally brings together President Uhuru Kenyattas The National Alliance (TNA), Deputy President William Ruto's United Republican Party (URP) and nearly a dozen other smaller parties, most of which were already allies of the ruling Jubilee coalition.

As the 10,000-odd party delegates awaited the arrival of the president and his deputy that morning, the scenes unfolding at the margins of the event went unnoticed, but perhaps were an apt metaphor for the reality of the Kenyan political landscape.

On the periphery of the main celebration were numerous hawkers, who had come to make some money off the crowd--aside from party delegates, the rest of the crowd very nearly filled the 60,000 capacity stadium.

These petty traders were selling everything from cold water and soft drinks to fruit, ice cream and other small snacks; there were also several photographers offering to take your photo for a fee.

But the police officers who were frisking the traders were doing something else--as the sun rose higher in the sky and the heat and dust became oppressive, they began to randomly extract a bottle of water, an orange or banana from the vendors as a kind of "tax" to be let through.

What struck this reporter was the way the police would cheerfully wave the traders off with the Jubilee Party slogan 'tuko pamoja' (Swahili for 'we are together'), the refrain of the day.

It was a stilted camaraderie--the police obviously had the force of the state behind them. The traders --through gritted teeth--had little choice but to part with a slice of their wares in order to be let in.

In a way, those cheerful yet extractive encounters at the fringes of the event were a kind of mirror of the grand party launch, which was already being billed by the local dailies as "historic".

The event itself was undoubtedly the biggest political carnival of this election cycle so far, the whole place was a sea of red (the main party colour), there were fireworks and flares, a flamboyant display of power. It was instructive that the event had to be held at the country's largest public arena; if you compare it, for example, to the launch of Kenyatta's TNA four years ago, whose attendance was perhaps a quarter that of the latest fete, and hosted at the much smaller Kenyatta International Convention Centre (KICC).

And when it comes to the money, the perception now is that Jubilee has deep pockets and has no qualms splashing as much of it as will ensure a resounding electoral victory next year.

Sources closely involved with the new party launch told New African that each party delegate was being paid $100 a day as a per diem allowance.

Indeed, on the second day of the convention, delegates refused to ratify the new party until they had had assurances that they would be paid their per diem. Instead of responding to the slogan "Jubilee!" with "Tuko pamoja!", the delegates shouted "Pesa!" (money!). It would take a personal assurance from the deputy president himself that the "small matter" of their allowances would be taken care of.

If each delegate was being paid $300 for attending the three-day convention, then a conservative estimate would put the money being spent on per diem alone at $3m. That excludes all the other paraphernalia that goes with an event of this nature--merchandise, posters, artists, a sound PA, transport, and so on.

One source, on condition of anonymity, told this reporter that the "owners" of the small parties were being paid anything between $50,000 and $200,000 to dissolve their parties, and merge into the new outfit. …

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