Monday, June 11, 2012

What Is SDP Doing in the Hoja Alliance?

By Onyango Oloo

Secretary for Ideology
Social Democratic Party of Kenya
Sunday, 10 June 2012

That question above was dispatched to me as a text message from one of my friend’s cell phone almost a week ago with media reports of a new pact seven parties: Chama cha Mwananchi, People’s Party of Kenya, Social Democratic Party, Party of Action, Saba Saba Asili, New Democrats and Chama Cha Uzalendo.

The same comrade informed me in the same text that he was putting on hold his prior intention of joining the Social Democratic Party.

Similar concerns were to be captured elsewhere and conveyed to other SDP leaders-on social media outlets like Twitter, Google +, Facebook as well as Jukwaa, the online discussion forum that I launched in August 2005.

Just restricting myself to comments from Jukwaa I saw some pundits posit that SDP was in it for the cash which was supposedly flowing from the alleged deep reservoirs of Raphael Tuju’s presidential electoral vehicle, POA (the Party of Action).

Others thought that the Hoja Alliance was but one more missile in the arsenals of those political forces out to torpedo the efforts of Prime Minister Raila Odinga to reach the ultimate apex of political leadership in Kenya.

I was amused more than offended to see another person rush to dismiss the Hoja Alliance as yet “another rubbish alliance”.

I will concentrate on answering the first question:

What is SDP Doing in the Hoja Alliance?

It may be prudent to begin by asking the even more fundamental question:

What is the Hoja Alliance?

This is a coming together of seven political parties who have resolved to work together on a common platform that is ISSUE-based and IDEOLOGY driven.

To paraphrase from the media release which was read during its launch, Hoja Alliance is anchored on the need to buttress and consolidate the multi-party character of Kenya’s emerging democracy-something the constitution itself underscores. 

It is ironic to see mainstream politicians who suffered severely during the long night of KANU’s one party tyranny trying in 2012 to corral the limits of Kenya’s political pluralism- in effect limiting the millions of Kenyans into spectators  crammed at the race course cheering two horses duke it out for the top prize, reducing all other players to donkeys.

Flowing from this point, the parties in the Hoja Alliance do not see themselves as “small” or “new” parties.” 

For example, the Social Democratic Party is one of the OLDEST political parties in Kenya. It is older than ODM, PNU, URP, UDF, Wiper and certainly TNA. We were the first major party to field a woman presidential candidate way back in 1997 and she did a commendable fourth place finish on her very first showing. At one point we had at least 23 members of parliament.

More than the numbers, it is the strength of our ideological grounding. Long before it became fashionable, and lately, legally MANDATORY the SDP was very proud to be, in our opinion, one of the few parties with a distinct ideological stance, speaking consistently based on our principles and not swayed by the waves of ethnic based opportunism and expediency.

All the Hoja Alliance partners identify themselves as social democratic in political orientation. We go further than the rhetoric: in our written manifestoes specifying our minimum and our maximum demands, there is a clear identification with the concerns of our ordinary men and women. As we said in our media release: “As an Alliance, we note with sadness the gross inequalities and iniquities that bedevil a multiplicity of relations within our nation leading to unwarranted but potentially explosive inter-ethnic and inter-class strife, suspicion and gripe.”

Because the leadership of our parties were confident they would pass the integrity test when it came to matters of corruption and other vices we boldly declared on the day of our launch:

We, therefore, unreservedly commit to upholding the letter and spirit of Chapter Six of Kenya Constitution 2010 and pledge to break away from the prevailing culture of impunity replete with blatant theft and vulgar misuse of national resources. 

We cemented these aspirations with a formal ceremony witnessed by a lawyer armed with his official seal in which each party had three of its leading representatives append their signatures to the following document:
Code of Conduct and Terms of Engagement
 By signing this pledge, we commit our parties to:

1.  To uphold the Hoja Alliance Principles and values in line with Kenya Constitution 2010 (document attached).

2.  Collaborate with the Alliance members towards securing victory in the next general election through deliberate efforts geared towards building friendships, trust and confidence among members of the Alliance through activities such as joint meetings, workshops and other team-building events.

3.  Integrate our campaign activities as an Alliance whilst staying open to pursuing activities specific to our mother parties but not at variance with the core ideals of the Alliance.

4.  Articulating the principles and values espoused by the Hoja Alliance in all our public and media events and continuously publicly identify with the Alliance and at all times while respecting the diversity of the Alliance.

5.  Work actively towards recruiting further partnerships that may bring on board other political parties and caucuses that share the ideals and principles of the Alliance.

6.  At all times uphold the tenets under Section 10 (2) of the Constitution of Kenya especially as relates to social justice. 

7.  Adhere to the code of conduct as spelt here below;

Code of Conduct

We members of the Hoja Alliance commit ourselves to the following. To;
1.  Desist from talking at cross-purposes.
2.  Allow only the designated spokespersons to make pronouncements on behalf of the Alliance.
3.  Take cognizance of strengths and resources that individual parties bring on board and deploy them to strengthen the Alliance.
4.  Host weekly consultative meetings in order to review progress and to continuously chart the way forward for the Alliance towards developing events and building consensus.
5.  Commit to keep off any public announcement on disengagement before the matter is discussed and agreed upon by the top organ of the Alliance.
6.  Vet all members who join subsequently in order to maintain the ideals of the Alliance.
7.  Ensure the Alliance Charter is signed by the top leadership of the constituent parties, for instance, the Party Leader, Chair and Secretary General or their designated representatives. 
At all times strictly adhere to and be guided by the Principles of Chapter Six of the Kenya 2012 Constitution.

There are those who have wondered the circumstances which brought SDP in particular, with POA; some noting the contrast between the sartorial eloquence of Raphael Tuju and his tailored Armani suits, for example and Mwandawiro Mghanga who still dresses, walks and talks like the evergreen socialist activist Kenya has known for the last thirty years.

Well, here is a little secret:

Mwandawiro Mghanga, Raphael Tuju, Ambassador Makdwallo (a key POA insider) all happened to be Form 1 students  at the Starehe Boys Centre from way back in 1974 and they remained class mates (albeit in different streams) for the next six years at the same institution so they are certainly no strangers to each other. Moreover Tuju and Mwandawiro entered parliament in 2002. Mwandawiro sat in one of the key house committees dealing with security while Tuju served as Foreign Affairs minister where he worked behind the scenes to improve the relations with Cuba (at the time when Mwandawiro was the Chairperson of the Kenya-Cuba Friendship Society).

And how many people knew that BEFORE he formed POA, Raphael Tuju wanted SDP to be his preferred party for his 2012 presidential bid? Of course the way some of Tuju’s associates from the PNU wing like Mutahi Kagwe went about that process which brought them in direct collision with SDP’s militant youth who wrestled Kagwe’s faction to the ground reclaiming the Secretary General mantle from Mutahi and kicking out his other lieutenants from the SDP offices.

But it was POA which approached SDP for a bilateral meeting fully aware of SDP’s radicalized transformation (we have morphed from a mainstream social democratic formation into a communist leaning organization guided by Marxist-Leninist precepts).

As one of three SDP Central Committee members who attended that bilateral I was initially, to be quite candid, very sceptical about the prospects of reaching any middle ground because I thought POA was a middle of the road liberal democratic party. I must say I was pleasantly surprised to hear Raphael Tuju and his party members identify themselves as social democrats. But I still could not resist asking the POA flag bearer directly whether he was still a member of the G7 alliance because I had personally seen him in televised news reports attending the Uhuru/Ruto rallies. He responded by saying that even though he had been in those events he had at no time been a member of the G7. He cited his poor, humble family background to emphasize that he felt no class affinity with some of those rich fat cats. Beyond the personal testimonies, POA impressed SDP with their honesty-acknowledging the ideological differences between our parties while affirming our commonalities.

POA explained that the impetus for the alliance had emanated from the Democratic Party, with the main motivation of cobbling a national alliance that eschewed parochial tribal and fear mongering agendas. POA told us of other parties who had been invited to participate in these conversations about the alliance. By the end of our meeting the two parties had resolved to take the lead in convening the other parties in a meeting to take place a few days hence.

On the Tuesday following  our Saturday meeting-I am referring to events from about four weeks ago-we met as a  larger group at the Methodist Guest House in the  Valley Arcade area of Nairobi.

Present were the following: DP (represented by Dr. Chris Murungaru, Joseph Munyao,  Dr. Machage and several others); Chama Cha Mwananchi ( represented by Dick Kamau, Dr. Musyoka and others); SDP (represented by Mwandawiro  Mghanga, Benedict Wachira and Onyango Oloo);  People’s Party of Kenya (represented by Kihiku); Chama Cha Uzalendo (represented by Maur Bwanamaka, Kipyegon Yego and others); Saba Saba Asili ( represented by Bedan Mbugua and others); KADDU (represented by Mutemi) and POA which had Raphael Tuju, POA Secretary General Vicky Chebet, Ambassador Makdwallo, Dr. Susan Mwanzia  and several others.

The discussion was robust, frank and fruitful. Two parties-SDP and CCU- pushed the agenda to first of all identify the basis of unity. SDP had its minimum demands from its current manifesto. Essentially the meeting ended up accepting our postulation that if this was NOT a Centre-Left Alliance there was no point in wasting each other’s time. It was at this point we noticed that ALL the DP leaders started melting away one by one citing other engagements. They eventually opted out of the alliance even though they were the main initiators! People went around the room trying to cobble together some of the common points which brought the parties together.

To cut a long story short, at the end of the plenary a smaller team was mandated to harmonize those points, come up with the name of the alliance and report back to the larger meeting after three days. The SDP assigned me to that small technical group. Subsequently the points were reduced to fifteen and when we reported to the larger group the plenary went through approximately twenty suggested names for the alliance. Maur Bwanamaka proposed the name Muungano wa Haja na Hoja. Onyango Oloo suggested a friendly amendment, proposing replacing “muungano” with “mseto” arguing that “muungano” implied “merger” while “mseto” was technically the more accurate term for “alliance”. This formulation was endorsed with the caveat that it could be fine tuned to make it less mouthful with some also proposing an English equivalent. At the end of the day what started off as “Mseto wa Kisiasa wa Haja na Hoja” was whittled down to the Hoja Alliance.

The next step was to confirm how many parties had agreed to the platform. After that a date was fixed for the media release.

On the eve of that event one of our most active participants said they would not be signing the document on that day because they needed to do consult internally on some aspects. This was agreed to. They are coming on board on Sunday 10th of June along with another political party whose identity will be publicly unveiled at the same time.

In a nutshell that is how SDP came to be part of the Hoja Alliance. 

Mark you, it is too early in the day to talk about electoral pacts, running mates and other nitty gritty details. The focus now is in consolidating a steering committee and secretariat for the Hoja Alliance.

But  having detailed  all that, we must hasten to add that  the understanding of the Social Democratic Alliance regarding alliances, coalitions and  so on is  much deeper than that and has been enriched through our study, understanding and analysis of historical situations in places as far flung as  Guyana in South America, the  states of West  Bengal and Kerala in India where communists dominated the provincial governments for decades, Italy during the time of Antonio Gramsci, Germany during the time of Hitler, Brazil in the era of Lula and other  examples.

As Marxist-Leninists were are acutely aware of at least three potential pitfalls and opportunities for the SDP entering into an alliance with other parties summarized in the following bullet points:

  • Alliance with a class or its representatives who represent opposing class interests;
  • Alliance without surrendering the independence of the party or its ideology;
  • Identifying the thin line between capitulation and assertion and opportunism and ideology.

Furthermore, we in the SDP realize the euphoria for alliances is driven by the fleeting demands of this campaign year. In other words there will be parties whose sole calculation into entering  a pact with another party would  be centred around winning  power at the presidential, national and county levels and securing a percentage of public funding while for us while winning elections is important, what is more crucial is the long term goal of transforming this country.  That is why Marxists prefer the more embracing concept of the United Front as opposed to just one time coalitions.

And even when talking of the United Front, we distinguish between two aspects:

(a)  United Front from above, which is forming a front with political parties and political organizations and
(b)  United Front from below-which is  forging a  common agenda with different classes, strata and groups of people with their cultural, gender based, youth oriented, sectoral even religious and regional organizations- something much more nuanced and long term. It is SDP’s objective to work with mass democratic formations in order to learn from the wananchi, popularize its programmes and recruit more members and supporters. Mass democratic work at the grass roots is qualitatively different from building an alliance from above with political parties although when everything works, the two processes  cross pollinate each other.

In other words SDP has entered the Hoja Alliance with its eyes wide open.

Let us wrap this up with by hearing from two of the most brilliant thinkers and strategists of revolutionary struggle.

First from the leader of the Russian revolution whose CV is still unmatched:

“...The more powerful enemy can be conquered only by exerting the utmost effort, and by necessarily, thoroughly, carefully, attentively and skilfully taking advantage of any, even the smallest, ‘rift’ among the taking advantage of every, even the smallest, opportunity of gaining a mass ally, even though this ally be temporary, vacillating, unstable, unreliable and conditional...”
- Vladimir Lenin, “Left-Wing Communism, an Infantile Disorder, International Publishers, New York, 1940, p.50.

Closer to us in terms of Third World realities is Le Duan the quiet genius of the Vietnamese Revolution:
“... Far from pinning our hopes on antagonisms within the ranks of the enemy, we are fully aware that the development of these contradictions and the extent to which they be capitalized upon are in the last analysis determined by the strength of the revolution. The experience of all genuine popular revolutions shows that the stronger the revolutionary forces become and the higher the revolutionary tide rises, the more the enemy’s ranks are torn by contradictions and are likely to split. Ultimately the time comes when these conflicts have grown so exacerbated as to render impossible all compromise between the various enemy factions. This constitutes one of the unmistakable signs of the maturity of the revolutionary situation. The revolution then breaks out and the enemy’s rule is overthrown in decisive battles....The victory of the revolution depends primarily on a correct determination of the general orientation and strategic objective, as well as the specific orientation and objective for each period. But just as important as defining the orientation and objective is the problem of how to carry them into effect once such decisions are made. What road should be followed? What forms should be adopted? What measures should be used? Experience has shown that a revolutionary movement may mark time, or even fail, not for lack of clearly defined orientations and objectives, but essentially because there have been no appropriate principles and methods of revolutionary action. Methods of revolutionary action are devised to defeat the enemy of the revolution, and in the most advantageous way, so that the revolution may attain its ends as quickly as possible. Here one also needs wisdom as well as courage; it is not only a science, but also an art. Decisions over methods of revolutionary action require, more than in any other field, that the revolutionary maintain the highest creative spirit. Revolution is creation; it cannot succeed without imagination and ingenuity. There has never been nor will there ever be a unique formula for making a revolution that is suited to all situations. One given method may be adaptable to a certain country but unsuitable in another. A correct method in certain times and circumstances may be erroneous in other situations. Everything depends on the concrete historical conditions..... It is a matter of principle that either in the daily policies or in the practice of revolutionary struggle... a revolutionary should never lose sight of the final goal. If one considers the fight for small daily gains and immediate targets as ‘everything’ and views the final goal as ‘nothing’... then one displays the worst kind of opportunism which can only result in keeping the popular masses in eternal servitude. However, it is by no means sufficient to comprehend only the final objective. While keeping in mind the revolutionary goal, the art of revolutionary leadership lies in knowing how to win judiciously step by step. Revolution is the work of millions of popular masses standing up to overthrow the ruling classes, which command powerful means of violence together with other material and spiritual forces. That is why a revolution is always a long-term process. From the initial steps to the final victory, a revolution necessarily goes through many difficult and complex stages of struggle full of twists and bends, clearing one obstacle after another and gradually changing the relation of forces between the revolution and the counter-revolution until overwhelming superiority is achieved over the ruling classes...”
- Le Duan, “The Vietnamese Revolution: Fundamental Problems and Essential Tasks, New World Paperbacks, New York, 1971, pp22-27.
Our expectation  is that the  Hoja Alliance will be a Centre-Left Alliance in which we, as  SDP, will consciously try to  push the politics to the Left. We are of course away of the power dynamics within the alliance given the relative financial clout of our other alliance partners. We are probably among the poorest parties in Kenya in terms of what may be in our  bank coffers although in terms of depth of knowledge and accumulated wisdom of the anti-imperialist and democratic struggles we are among the  wealthiest.

Even as  we embark on the Hoja Alliance we take note of Cyrus Jirongo’s recent observation that the powers that be have their hands in the  creation of  certain political start ups and therefore we will not be entirely surprised to see agents of the NSIS, State House and even some right wing blocs attempting to manipulate this alliance building and coalition strengthening process.

Fortunately for the SDP, our  entry into the Hoja Alliance is based on principle and we will be active in that alliance  as long as all partners remain committed to the ideals which brought us together.


Unknown said...

Thank you for this background information. I wondered what were the basis for the coalition and like the name too!

Anonymous said...

Suala la kwamba SDP imejiunga NA Muungano wa "HOJA ALLIANCE" kwa sababu ya kifedha hilo haliingi akilini kamwe. Hebu tujiulize, kwani ni vyama vingapi vyenye pesa vinavyoongozwa na matajiri walio wafisadi hapa nchini? Mbona SDP haijaingia kwenye muungano na vyama hivyo kama kweli haja yetu ni pesa? Kuhusu sababu ya kumzuia Raila asiingie kwenye mamlaka, Waswahili walisema; "chema chajiuza kibaya chajitembeza" Raila atajizuia mwenyewe kuingia mamlakani kutokana na kujihusisha kwake na mabwenyenye na mabepari, tunataka utawala uwe mikononi mwa viongozi wanaojali maslahi ya walala "HOI" sio wale wanaojali maslahi ya walala "HAI" Kwa hivyo wapiga kura ndio watakaoamua hatima ya Ndugu Raila na si mtu mwengine yoyote.
Natinal Deputy Organizing Secretary

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