The Centre for Multiparty Democracy (CMD-Kenya) is a body founded by political parties in Kenya with the express aim of strengthening multiparty democracy. Since its establishment, CMD-Kenya has worked with both opposition and ruling parties and played a central role in substantive political changes moving Kenya in a democratic direction. Moreover, the organization serves as a platform for multiparty dialogue and cooperation with civic actors and policymakers to promote social justice, respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms, and political governance best practices. CMD-Kenya innovated the concept of the People Dialogue Festival (PDF) in Kenya inspired by democracy festivals organized in the Nordic-Baltic Sea region.
The inaugural PDF event was successfully convened in March 2019 in Nairobi. Subsequent editions have been held in 2020, 2021, and 2022. Under the overarching theme Competition and Collaboration in Democratic Development, the fifth edition is to take place from 8th to 11th March 2023 at the Nairobi National Museum. PDF is a really experience of the Kenyan in People in Dialogue in an informal way enabled by the Festival mode.
Multiparty democracy is about competition but, equally important, it is about seeking shared solutions for the benefit of a country and its citizens. Effective and inclusive dialogue is therefore an essential element of a democratic society. In Kenya, it is fair to note that conflicts, interparty strife, and polarized relations between political parties have served to block the country’s sustainable development. On the other hand, evidence elsewhere shows that a basic level of trust and cooperation between political parties, actors, and citizens can pave the way for peace, stability, and sustainable growth.
The fact that Kenya needs to emerge from the present and historical state of affairs that makes it increasingly vulnerable cannot be gainsaid. Hence the need for greater collaboration among leaders in public space, to deal with the underlying issues, develop answers to problems and move the country forward on a positive path of sustainable peace and development is inevitable. A contrary path threatens to erase strides of development and may further entrench poverty and inequality, especially among young people who make up a high percentage of total Kenya’s population. Collaborative national leadership will stimulate dialogue at different levels of society on ways to achieve more effective and holistic strategies for managing and resolving differences and building inclusive processes that advance good governance in the country.
It is on this basis that CMD-Kenya is committed to the strategic priority of fortifying dialogue as we consider dialogue one of the realistic approaches to help build trust and the political will for change, both of which are critical in a country on the path to democracy and where difficult decisions need to be made. Cooperation not only between political parties but also between other state and non-state actors is vital to ensure that democracy becomes deeply rooted, going beyond the electoral competition. Political parties as key aggregators of citizens’ expectations, mediators between citizens and the state, and principal players in the democratic game, need to have the capacity to both compete and cooperate.
PDF is uniquely relevant as it ensures that enhanced dialogue goes beyond the political elite and accommodates gender equality, the inclusion of youth, minorities, civil society organizations, and other non-traditional actors like citizen movements in a political decision-making process. Furthermore, PDF safeguards the active and meaningful engagement of different actors and citizens in public affairs. The challenge is therefore to establish spaces for dialogue among state and non-state actors as well as ordinary citizens to strengthen their relationships towards the overall good of the country’s democratic development and the transformation towards sustainable development. Through PDF, Kenyans are provided a safe space for creative, open-minded, and collaborative problem, which is exactly what a genuine dialogue is about.
The overall objective of the People Dialogue Festival is to provide a platform for political parties and other actors (both state and non-state) to be in [political] dialogue on governance reforms and socio-economic issues and to safeguard democratic gains.
Specific objectives for the 5th Edition of PDF are as follows;
The expected impact from PDF 2023 includes;
Every PDF edition focuses on some topical subjects of national interest. Some of the thematic areas to cast a spotlight on during PDF 2023 are described below. However, the dialogue is not strictly conditioned to these areas as partners and co-organizers have the liberty to pitch and facilitate dialogue on subjects they consider relevant.
The Burden of Tax and Debt
As the saying goes, “Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes”, then let the debate on taxation in Kenya explore the two most significant questions. Can Kenya Tax Itself to Prosperity? In what ways can Kenya ease the growing burden of taxation? How did Kenya get to the point of external debt burden, and what are the consequences and way out of the crisis?
This debate is not unique to Kenya, as the world over, the fewer citizens feel that the government is not interfering in their affairs, the happier they are. However, it is delusional to imagine a situation without a government, which is why governments need money to operate; leading to the justification of taxation. In Kenya, successive administrations have largely operated deficit budgets attributable to government inefficiencies, with the main variables being the public wage bill and the external debt burden. The result is that this has left successive governments with the ever-growing need to raise revenue, with the urge to increase taxes and the challenge to broaden the tax base.
Any analysis of the current administration’s priorities shows that theoretically, those are good proposals. Kenyans want good healthcare availed to everyone; we want food and housing as we want more industries to create jobs for the youth. But does that justify the taxation? On the flip side, refusing to pay taxes is impractical.
This session will involve subject matter experts both academia and practitioners to surface the issues, offer insights, respond to questions and enlighten citizens on their civic duty to speak truth to power when the trajectory to increase taxes is considered unreasonable or unsustainable in the long run.
Kenya’s constitutional duels: Is it about power struggles among the elite?
In 2010, Kenya ushered in the most comprehensive constitutional reforms since independence. Yet it is fair to observe that the country is constantly subject to agonized constitutional debate with proponents for amendments arguing that the time is the right time to cure deficiencies in the 2010 constitution.
In the period leading up to the General Elections 2022, the Supreme Court of Kenya declared the BBI process unconstitutional. Former President Uhuru Kenyatta and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga fronted the proposed amendments while President William Ruto (then Deputy President) opposed the process and has recently referred to the BBI process as a criminal undertaking. In the aftermath of the General Elections 2022, President Ruto, in a memorandum to the National Assembly and the Senate, has asked parliamentarians to amend the Constitution and create an Office of the Official Leader of the Opposition, to cure what he said was a constitutional shortfall on the full post-election fate of the minority side. The President has also argued that reestablishing the role will institutionalize governance, strengthen oversight, and deepen democracy in Kenya. He also proposes Parliamentary standing orders be amended to facilitate the participation of Cabinet Secretaries in Parliamentary proceedings and to ensure they respond to questions posed by elected Members of Parliament. Additionally, President Ruto also asked Parliament to reform the law on gender equality to ensure more female MPs are nominated. President Ruto asserts the proposals should be enacted by Parliament per article 256 whereby both houses of the National Assembly and Senate can initiate changes that must be supported by at least two-thirds of all elected members. On the other hand, Hon. Raila Odinga says any plans to change the constitution must start with the people and that a president cannot initiate constitutional amendments as was the case for the BBI proposals that the Supreme Court dismissed.
The Attorney General (AG) who is the Government’s chief legal advisor will be invited to deliver a keynote address highlighting the salient arguments for the new push for constitutional changes. The keynote will be followed by a panel discussion composed of suitable representatives of all shades of opinion for a balanced, objective, and fair debate. The panel and plenary will reflect on the AG’s keynote address, explore concerns regarding the push for constitutional change being about competition for power among the country’s elite, and debate about popular and parliamentary routes to constitutional amendments whilst avoiding politically divisive reforms.
Post General Elections 2022 Evaluation Report – Looking Back to Move Forward
On 9th August 2022, Kenya held its seventh general election since the return to a multiparty system in 1991 and its third general election under the 2010 Constitution. The backdrop to the general elections was marked by a deepening economic downturn, increased social vulnerability, and rising poverty levels. Drastically soaring prices for fuel, staple food items, and agricultural products in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Russian invasion of Ukraine had contributed to the downturn. The general elections took place in a peaceful environment overall, with fundamental democratic rights respected. While the fear of violence that was present in previous elections and was a concern before this one did not emerge, a last-minute fallout between commissioners of IEBC remains a blot on the process although the Supreme Court upheld the outcome of presidential elections as declared. After the elections, the IEBC convened a series of post-election meetings to reflect on its gains and challenges in the 2022 General Election. The contents of the deliberations are aptly documented in the post-election evaluation report. This session will feature Elections Management Bodies and key CSOs which focus on a wide range of areas during the election cycle and thus have useful insights on areas of improvement towards a more seamless electoral process within the context of the post-election evaluation report.
World over, there are legitimate concerns about the trilemma of resurgence in populism, democracy failing to deliver and people becoming increasingly skeptical of politics. This scenario invites the question: What key opportunities and challenges do political parties face on their path to institutionalization and to safeguarding multiparty democracy in Kenya?
This question will be investigated through a series of dialogues involving the regulator (Registrar of Political Parties) duty bearers in political parties, political actors (PPLC, PPDT, IEBC), activists, analysts, and democracy support organizations. Top officials of political parties will also be granted an opportunity to deliver keynote addresses on this subject. Local and international democracy support organizations will be invited to showcase their work and participate in discussions on a range of democratization issues. The object is to enhance understanding of political parties as the nerve centers of organized politics, awaken the fact that bad political parties beget a low quality of life for the citizenry and a poor democratic culture. Participants will reflect on the strained relationship between citizens and political parties especially young people who do not trust political parties, while party leaders often complain that the youth are unwilling to get involved. Baseline findings of a study on the role, structure, and processes of political parties, the dynamics of local party operations, and ideology and the extent to which this affects the relationship between the party officials, elected and nominated leaders and party members will also be shared for informing the discussions.
As a basic institution of all modern democracies, political parties have a fundamental role in empowering citizens and ensuring inclusion and equality in societies around the world. Indeed, it is parties who are responsible for aggregating social demands and transforming them into political decisions. In this sense, political parties act as a chain of transmission, translating the popular will to those that hold power and take decisions. That is why political parties are essential to achieving the SDGs. They guide the actions of government institutions and civil society organizations, aiming to establish effective measures to overcome structural inequality, which is what holds us back – in many cases – from more progress on the SDGs. Moreover, parties act as a resonating box for those who have historically been excluded. This is key to the SDGs’ promise to “leave no-one behind”. Despite the crucial role they have to play, political parties are often overlooked as relevant actors in pursuing the SDGs. Within the PDF, the SDGs village will be the arena for political parties, policy makers, civic actors, private sector and citizens engage in constructive dialogue on issue-based politics, utilizing SDGs as a frame of reference for political parties to develop policies, and evaluating adhering to Kenya’s development agenda and fulfilling obligations to regional and global commitments.
A range of interactive and creative methodologies including keynote addresses, themed workshops, roundtable discussions, panel discussions, plenaries, exhibitions, lectures, speeches, interviews, masterclasses, focus group discussions, fireside chats, watch parties, live performances, and edutainment will be applied in the delivery of the different sessions. The sessions within PDF 2023 shall run simultaneously throughout the event and have been categorized as follows, although there shall be linkages and learning across the various platforms, with participants left at free will to engage in platforms of their preference;