JERRY OKUNGU An East African perspective Let us not put the cart before the horse. If we do that, the horse will tumble over and our journey will end prematurely. Right now we are busy sorting out the messes our politics has created in Darfur, Madagascar, Zimbabwe and Kenya. In some cases; we are busy writing new constitutions and reorganising electoral commissions. We are doing this after bitter experiences of our systems going wrong when democracy was massacred on the altar of personal political interests. Because we worshipped our leaders more than our institutions, we sacrificed the latter at their expense. When institutions die leaving individuals standing, such characters may end up being symbols of our institutions. Such were the legacies Jomo Kenyatta, Nkrumah, Milton Obote and Houghet Boigny bequeathed to us. When they lived and reigned supreme, we could hardly believe our nations without them. Much as we in Kenya are waiting for a new constitution to give us the magic level playing field, the competition for national office will still not be fair if we leave the grassroots process as rotten as it has been since 1966 when elections were first tampered with by the Kenyatta regime. Ironically it was the same year Obote sent military tanks to Kabaka Mutesas palace. Before we went to the polls for national elections in 2007, what we called party nominations was a joke to say the least in almost all major political parties. It was a free for all affairs where the moneyed and muscled ruled the airwaves and the ground. Intellectual ideologues with fantastic reform agendas had no chance in a million of ever getting elected to our parliament. Prior to the elections, ODM nomination centres for parliamentary candidates were turned into battlefields. The strongest, most violent and fastest runners got to the finishing line and snatched nomination certificates from party officials. Whereas party bigwigs avoided grassroots competition by awarding themselves direct nominations, the unlucky majority who paid hefty sums to be on the ballot box lived to regret it. It was a case of losers winning and winners losing all over the country. In other parties like ODMK, KANU and PNU, it was even more comical as party leaders sat together and shared slots among themselves at Kasarani stadium purporting to be holding Delegates Conferences! Perhaps the only party that tried something resembling the American presidential primary process was the ODM. In that party, much as it had messed up its parliamentary nominations, it rehabilitated itself when it came to the presidential primaries. Anybody trying to reform the electoral process in Kenya cannot afford to ignore internal party elections because it is at that level where everything that is wrong with our politics lives. That is the place where real dictatorship, violence, bribery, cheating and anything evil can be found. Here, parties are formed by individuals for individuals. They hardly brook any internal dissent. Any voice that tries to question the wisdom of the owners is hurriedly silenced by party hawks and the military wings. For democracy and good public management of our affairs to find their place in Africa, political parties must be divorced from their owners so that the electorate can once again own the parties they vote for from time to time. If this happens, professionalism will creep into the management of our politics as well as in our everyday lives. The current trend where a party leader is a member of parliament, CDF chairman, a cabinet minister, a deputy prime minister and even a head of state cannot be allowed to go on. Rules of the game must strive to enforce the principle of separation of powers just like we are expected to do in our family households. At the family level, it is the business of children to go to school, the father to ensure their school fees and food are catered for while the mother manages the household financial affairs. If we have to change the politics of this continent, those who opt to run party affairs must not be allowed to be MPs, ministers or heads of government. If party leaders can see the merit of good management of their political parties, chances are they are likely to be good managers of our resources when they become cabinet ministers or even presidents of our nations. That is why Paul Kagame is succeeding next door. Let us look at templates from mature democracies like the United States, Canada and India to learn from their experiences because a fool who recognizes his foolishness is wiser than he who thinks he knows everything.