Monday, September 12, 2016 — President Uhuru Kenyatta and Deputy President William Ruto announcing the grand launch of the Jubilee Party at Safaricom Stadium in Nairobi.

The current Kenyan government and its opposition have developed divergent strategies for winning the August 8, 2017 election – one large consolidated party for the former and a coalition of strong regional parties for the latter.

Since independence in 1963 every Kenyan president has been either a Kikuyu or Kalenjin. The current president, Uhuru Kenyatta is the son of the first president, Jomo Kenyatta, and a Kikuyu. The deputy president is William Ruto, a Kalenjin. In Kenya under the 2010 constitution a president is allowed only two terms of five years each; therefore, if Uhuru wins, this will be his last term. The agreement is that William Ruto will then take over for the next two election cycles so that the Kikuyu/Kalenjin alliance will rule for a total of twenty years, 2012 to 2032.

There are forty-three tribes in Kenya so this means the remaining forty-one tribes have been left out. A common rallying cry for opposition candidates is “it is our turn now.” Since most voting is based on tribe, a serious candidate must be from one of the top five tribes.


Percentage of population

Homeland province


Political party




Uhuru Kenyatta Jubilee




Raila Odinga ODM




Musalia Mudavadi

Moses Wetang’ula






Kalonzo Musyoka Wiper



Rift Valley

William Ruto Jubilee

38 Other tribes


Rest of country


As you can see from the figures the Kikuyu have a “jump” on the other tribes. Moreover Kikuyu register to vote at an extremely high level, often over 95%, and the registered voters vote at an extremely high level (at some polling stations over 100% of the registered voters!). On the other hand they are far from a majority. Therefore they pick the deputy president from one of the other four big tribes. In the current case it is the Kalenjin. The Kalenjin do not register and vote at those high levels so they don’t actually “carry their weight.” Nonetheless the totals of these two tribes are still short of 50% + 1 votes needed to win so they must influence other tribes to vote for them. Two quick pickups are the Meru (5%) and the Embu (1%) who are closely related in language and geography to the Kikuyu. Since this is not sufficient, they still need to pick up support elsewhere in order to win.

Political parties, based on personalities rather than any ideology, come and go with each election cycle. Currently there are over 40 political parties. Many are just the vehicle for the election of local or regional candidates. Others are “brief-case” parties where someone who wants to get rich in an easy way registers a party and then sets significant fees for the various positions and, when a candidate pays the fees, he is listed as a candidate for the party. The party gives no help of any kind to its candidates. In the last 2013 election there were ads in the newspaper for people to “join” these brief-case parties. As far as I know, no “brief-case” candidate won in any of the six positons. People are also allowed to run as independent candidates and a few of them did win.

For the 2012 election Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto each ran as a candidate from their own political party. For the 2017 election they have decided to consolidate into one large political party, called Jubilee Party. In September 2016, eleven parties officially folded into the new Jubilee Party. The advantage was that then everyone that joined would be working together to re-electe Kenyatta and Ruto. Moreover in the other positions – governor, senator, member of parliament (MP), women’s representative, and member of the county assembly (MCA) – there would be one Jubilee candidate. In previous elections, when more than one candidate from allied parties ran against each other, in some cases this allowed the opposition to win the election with a minority of votes.

The major problem is that those eleven parties will have people who want to be the Jubilee candidate for the various positions. They will fight it out in the Jubilee primary election scheduled for today and next Tuesday. In the regions where Jubilee is strong, this is almost a guarantee of election. In these cases the primary is the crucial election. Jubilee has registered 8,012 aspirants for 1757 positions in its primary election with up to 18 contestants for one position. Losers, though, may wish to go “party hopping” although this is supposed to be outlawed. Losers may also run as an independent candidate. In some cases it seems that politicians have already abandoned the Jubilee Party to run as candidates of one of the remaining smaller parties. The question thus remains: Will the consolidated Jubilee Party be one of strength or one of dissention? Will this new method be a political success or failure at the national level and at the local level?

NASA leaders, from left, Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi and Moses Wetang’ula during a rally in Bomet county, February 4, 2017. /Photo by KIBUSU KABATESI

The opposition is mostly composed of four major political parties that are the vehicles for four candidates (see picture above). The strategy here is for the parties to form an alliance, called the National Super Alliance (NASA). This method of an alliance rather than a consolidation has been successful in the past. In 2002 the National Rainbow Coalition ousted President Moi after 24 years in power. If the four major politicians/parties can come together, they have a chance of defeating the Jubilee Party.

The problem is that each of the four politicians wants to be the NASA presidential flagbearer. NASA has continued to put off the decision on announcing the flagbearers for president and deputy president because that means two others will be assigned to lessor positions. A Kenyan politician needs to have lots of ego so each of the four wants to be the presidential candidate. When the flagbearers are announced, NASA may fall apart if those not selected for president decide to run as president on their own party ticket. If this happens, the Uhuru/Ruto regime will almost assuredly be re-elected, perhaps even on the first ballot where it needs 50% + 1 of the votes cast to win. If not there will be a run-off election, but a splintered opposition is unlikely to succeed in a run off. One note of caution is that in the 2012 election Musalia Mudavadi ran for president under his own local Amani party, but received less than 4% of the vote. Therefore any candidate who decides to “go-it-alone” is almost assuredly going to lose badly.

Which political strategy will be successful? In the Kenyan tribal context is it more advantageous to have one large party (Jubilee) or a strong alliance of regional parties (NASA)? Since the Jubilee consolidated party is a new experiment, I myself don’t know the answer.


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From 1998 to 2016, David Zarembka was the Coordinator of the African Great Lakes Initiative of the Friends Peace Teams. He continues his peacemaking work in East Africa with Transforming Communities for Social Change (TCSC) and Friends Church Peace Team (FCPT). He has been involved with East and Central Africa since 1964 when he taught Rwandan refugees in Tanzania. David is married to Gladys Kamonya and lives in western Kenya. David is the author of A Peace of Africa: Reflections on Life in the Great Lakes Region.


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