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US Group Assists Kenya With Political Party Development - 2001-08-16

A U.S. based organization has held a workshop in Kenya to encourage the development of political parties. While there are many political parties in the country, few of them have any real power. The new program hopes to change that.

The National Democratic Institute, a Washington-based organization whose goal is to promote democracy around the world, has begun a new program to strengthen Kenya's political system.

Belonging to a political party in Kenya involves little more than supporting a tribal leader. Parties are usually created specifically to fight for the election of a particular individual.

For example, parliamentarian Charity Ngilu recently established her own party because her current one, the Social Democratic Party, refused to let her be its presidential candidate for the 2002 poll.

Because of this focus on an individual candidate rather than on issues, many of Kenya's 40-plus political parties are very weak. They have few members and do not remain long on the political scene.

The National Democratic Institute wants to help change this. To give the parties more stability, it is holding a series of multi-party workshops that focus on voter outreach, leadership training, fundraising and membership and organizational development. Trainers from Mozambique and Namibia are bringing their expertise to the talks.

Samwel Kivuitu, chairman of Kenya's electoral commission, told an NDI workshop that, to be more effective, political parties must learn to manage their finances more carefully. "When it comes to finances, how many members know where they get their money from, how is it spent? Some of the political parties here have no bank accounts or if they have any bank accounts it belongs to one person," he said.

Raila Odinga, leader of Kenya's National Development Party, says one-way parties can gain stronger backing from the voters is by conducting their internal affairs as democratically as possible. "A political party must respect its own constitution. If the constitution says elections are held after so many years, hold those elections. If not, then you are only likely to carry this dictatorship you have in your own party into government when you go there," he said.

The NDI has actively supported democratization efforts in Kenya since 1993, including the training of women candidates and election monitors. Those efforts will be tested next year, when Kenyans go to the polls to elect a president.