Workers Electoral Political Participation: A Glimpse From Kenya; By Jaye Gaskia

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KENYA is going into a general election in August 2022, and as in Nigeria, the labour movement is keenly interested in and involved in the general elections process.

What are the differences and or similarities between the Kenyan and Nigerian efforts at ensuring workers political participation in the electoral process? And what inferences can be drawn from the Kenyan process?

There are those who might say apriori that Kenya is not Nigeria, and or that there’s nothing that can be learnt from the Kenyan situation by the Nigerian trade union movement.

So, yes Kenya is certainly not Nigeria, nor is Nigeria Kenya. But that does not necessarily foreclose cross learning by the two labour movements.

First, unlike in Nigeria, the Kenyan trade union movement does not have the kind of political, and joint political organising relationship with the civil society, as does the Nigerian trade union movement. This type of sustained, political and even ideological relationship with civil society, that is, the part of civil society that identifies itself as pro-labour, is left-led or left-oriented, and is radical; as is the case in the Nigerian situation, is a rarity in Africa (with the exception of South Africa, and the possible exception of countries that have been embroiled in sustained popular revolt, such as Sudan, Algeria, etc.). And as a rarity, the phenomenon, given the current context of coordinated attacks on labour rights, and deepening assaults the civic space, is a type of relationship that the trade union movement in the rest of Africa is beginning to actively consider and work towards. And for this, the Nigerian experience stands as a beacon for emulation and refining.

In Kenya, unlike in Nigeria, there is no Labour Party, or any party with an historic, organisational relationship with the trade union movement. So, this is another difference.

However, in Kenya as in Nigeria, the central trade union federations have for the first time in their histories, adopted a political party and a presidential candidate to support in the elections in the current general elections cycle.

Both trade union movements have however approached the implementation of this decision in very strategically different ways.

In Kenya, the Central Organisation of Trade Unions of Kenyan (COTU-K), not only took the historic decision to adopt a political party and presidential candidate, but have also entered into agreements with the party and the presidential candidate.

COTU-K concluded, entered into and signed a bidding agreement, encoded in a signed Memoranda of Understanding (MOU) between the central trade union federation and the adopted party and its presidential candidate.

The MOU contains bidding clauses guiding and regulating the political relationship, and include provisions that mandate the inclusion of workers’ representatives, nominated by the central federation into all the elections and campaigning organs of the party and presidential candidate. Towards this end, labour has three representatives (two males and one female) in the national campaign coordination committee; one labour representative each in the County (State) level campaign coordination committees; and three labour representatives each in the Ward level campaign coordination committees.

The Kenyan Trade unions are also to be consulted, and must agree on issues and policies directly related to industrial and labour relations, and on industrialisation.

The MOU provides for labour’s participation in drawing up the election program and manifesto of the party and presidential candidate in this election. Towards this end, a manifesto, drawn up with labour participation, and including a chapter specifically devoted to labour issues and the demands of the labour movement, have been adopted.

The running mate to the adopted presidential candidate is not only a woman, but is also from civil society.

The adopted presidential candidate is a political activist who has long been historically involved with pursuit of democratic and labour rights, and have historically led opposition to dictatorship, one party rule, and attacks on democratic and human rights of Kenyans.

The running mate, on the other hand, also has a long history of defence and promotion of labour and workers’ rights both as a civil society activist, and as Minister for Labour in a governing cabinet.

Finally, the Kenyan labour movement made a conscious choice, to adopt a party and presidential candidate, in the context of a situation where the other leading presidential candidate and his party is openly hostile to workers’ interests and workers’ rights, and has openly declared a governance agenda to do away with the labour movement and crush the trade unions if voted into office.

In conclusion, are there lessons to be learnt? The Kenyan trade union movement is openly and consciously involved in the elections’ campaigns, and has entered into binding agreements, including asserting its right to strike and mobilise citizens’ action in the event of a breach of the agreement.

Furthermore, the Kenya trade union movement has secured agreement with the adopted political party and its presidential candidate on enacting Universal Social Protection coverage (including in the informal sector), within the first 100 days in office, as well as an agreement that the new government will protect and guarantee the right of workers to join unions, the right to collective bargaining, and the right to strike.

To conclude, it is important to note that what is being compared here is the strategic approach towards the realisation of a political objective, that of having a pro-worker’ government. In neither of the Kenyan nor the Nigerian cases has ideological consideration per se, been at the centre of the debate, even though the adopted presidential candidate in the Kenyan case has always historically identified as socialist in the trading of radical social democracy, as opposed to the Nigerian situation, where the adopted presidential candidate has historically not been pro-worker, and has historically identified as neoliberal.

Gaskia is a member of TPAP-M Secretariat

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