THE STATE OF THIRDWAY: AN OPEN LETTER TO DR EKURU AUKOT
15th November, 2016.
Hello Dr. Ekuru Aukot.
I greet you in the name of freedom, democracy and comradeship. I find it necessary that I address you directly because of the gravity of the issues at hand with regard to the current state and direction of Thirdway Alliance movement.
I wish to start by acknowledging even celebrating the work we have done jointly towards the growth of progressive politics in Kenya. As you may recall, we only came to know each other in early 2015 when we found out that we were working towards a similar goal in different places. It was during the #GoBeyondTwitter meeting at Chester house that I first met you among many great comrades from around the country.
Since then I have put my energy and resources into building a progressive movement that later took on the name Thirdway Alliance Kenya. At this time I wish to appreciate the many comrades who invested their time and effort in constructing Thirdway however small that effort was. Even though most of them left Thirdway at different times, we must be honest enough to accept that without their effort then, we would not have this movement now. It is my hope that their work was not in vain and their vision for the movement must be protected even in their absence.
THIRDWAY FOUNDATION BUILDERS
At this point I wish to acknowledge the many sacrifices of those who laid the foundation for this movement. They include comrades; Booker Ngesa, Yahya Nene, Abraham Mutai, Catherine Watuka, Tom Mboya, Lone Felix, Wanjeri Nderu, Ronnie Osumba, Mugambi Laibuta among others. It may not be practical to list the names of all friends and well wishers who put their hands to the plough at the very initial stages and even later on in the life of this movement. Many Kenyans have made contributions to the movement including at the time when we organized a general congress at ufungamano house in December 2015 otherwise called #Ufungamano1000. We thank all these Kenyans including those who traveled long distances to come to Nairobi in the quest for new progressive leadership.
SCOPE OF THIS OPEN LETTER
I have decided to write this letter to share my opinion on the current state of Thirdway as well make a few comments on its possible future.
Since joining up with the initial founders of Thirdway, I became an active member. I came into Thirdway as a trade unionist having actively participated in labour issues affecting doctors just after my graduation. I remain a trade unionist. My expectation then was that a progressive movement should have the capacity to bring workers, students, religious groups, the civil society, business people, the media and even political parties under a broad coalition that would challenge the status quo by providing an alternative answer to the question of leadership in Kenya. That expectation has not changed but it has been severely challenged in the context of events at Thirdway since the beginning of 2016.
In the course of time, I have come to realize that you support certain positions that I strongly oppose because they are in sharp conflict with the foundational principles of Thirdway including our original mission and vision. I will now highlight these areas as briefly as possible.
- AN APPALLING LACK OF DEMOCRACY WITHIN THIRDWAY.
It is somewhat unfortunate that ‘lack of democracy’ is not very uncommon with political movements in our country.
In the beginning when the first foundational stones of Thirdway were laid, democracy became a central pillar. We did endeavor to build a movement that celebrates democratic ideals at the organizational and national level. Today there is a total lack of democracy within Thirdway alliance. Decision making is wholly top-down and the leadership does not enjoy the mandate or confidence of the members. The interim leadership is wholly hand-picked from your own cronies. This makes them beholden to you.
Once a Thirdway member does not agree with your particular opinion on an issue, they are framed and expelled. This explains the high turn over within the leadership and the constant migration from one whatsapp group to another. It is extremely disconcerting that for a movement barely a year and a half old leadership has been overhauled more than five times. Membership remains fluid with a majority of new members exiting the movement within one month of joining.
If Thirdway espoused democratic ideals, the bulk of its members would stay longer and the turnover of would be far smaller. Among the many controversial decisions that members were denied a chance for honest debate include; i] Your decision to vie for president on a Thirdway ticket as the sole candidate without a process of nomination, internal consultations or formal endorsement. Ii] The decision to pick a camel as the symbol of the party thereby creating an impression that Thirdway is a pastoralist movement. This greatly diminished the stature of the movement against a backdrop of loud protests by members. The protests were dismissed quite casually. Iii] The unfair decision to expel comrades Booker Ngesa and Wanjeri Nderu among others on false allegations and without the benefit of a hearing by a neutral committee which I suggested but the suggestion was ignored.
During a meeting of members held on 17th September, the members present were told to make comments about the future direction Thirdway. It is extremely unfortunate that the open discussion on that day has formed the basis for the most vicious witch-hunt since the 18th century. Those who made divergent views on that day are now being targeted and some have already been removed from Thirdway. I wish to state that whereas democracy can be nurtured to grow, dictatorship also obeys the rules of nurture and growth. Oppressive regimes begin with simple acts of intolerance and before you know, huge crowds are chanting ‘hail fuhrer!’ and the inquisition begins.
- LACK OF DECORUM WITHIN THIRDWAY LEADERSHIP
The manner in which supposed senior Thirdway officials address members is extremely uncouth. When members raise even innocuous questions on the direction of the movement , they are loudly shouted down using insults and threats of removal from Thirdway groups. In most cases they are removed even after a minor altercation. What should be civil discussions quickly turns into a long lecture by the chairman and his side-kicks on why members should pay up before they can ask questions.
A whole chairman even stoops as low as scanning members social media pages , takes screen shots then hastily posts them on the discussion thread as a prove that the said members are not Thirdway members. This great aversion to debate raises questions as to whether Thirdway is truly the home of progressive politics in Kenya.
Most discussions within Thirdway end with the removal of a member by the arrogant self anointed leadership surrounding you my brother, Dr Ekuru. You have been completely unable to give leadership in simple matters regarding management of conflicts within Thirdway. On the contrary you have seemed to support diversion from debate and even supported false propaganda against your own members and fellow leaders. The arrogant and selfish group that surrounds you glories in winning small turf wars inside Thirdway instead of confronting the hard politics of Kenya. The scriptures in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 7.5 sounds an important warning; It is better to heed the rebuke of the wise than listen to the song of fools.
- SYCOPHANCY AND THE CULT OF PERSONALITY
The cult of personality was one of the many evils that the Thirdway movement was designed to fight and overcome. However Thirdway has slowly transformed into a nursery of the same vice. The small oligarchy that surrounds you openly advocates for sycophancy towards you as a measure of loyalty to the movement. This is both dangerous and retrogressive. I wish to reiterate that ‘Ekuru for president’ is not a plan, it cannot by itself transform our Kenyan society because it is not an ideology.
I have to remind you that we promised our members at the beginning that the difference Thirdway would create is to remove tribalism and the personality cult from the centre of Kenyan politics, replacing the vices with solid ideologies. Even though the journey of Thirdway towards real leadership in Kenya remains in infancy, retrogressive tendencies are already being welcomed, condoned and even perpetrated by the top leadership. It is therefore delusional to imagine that you are unaware or that you do not directly sanction these retrogressive tendencies. If we cannot be trusted to keep these simple promises that we made to our comrades just a few months ago, how will Kenyans trust us with the transformation of the whole society?
KANU sycophancy remains a condemned phenomenon of Kenyan history. Those who are yearning for change in Kenya must therefore exercise extreme caution over the compromises they must make on those who pride themselves as change agents. While some of the organizational improprieties at Thirdway might seem trivial at first sight, the potential for malignant growth of such improprieties into a monster must be borne in mind. It is extremely dangerous for any leadership in any organization big or small to take off using an autocratic gear.
- A MEMBERSHIP BASED ON FINANCIAL CONTRIBUTIONS
The current Thirdway membership categories include platinum (ksh 100,000), gold (ksh 50, 000), silver (kshs 25,000), bronze (ksh 10,000) and ordinary membership (ksh 100). This type of membership obviously has precedent in political parties in Kenya. However it creates an animal farm syndrome where the rich are more equal than the poor. It sets Thirdway apart as an elitist movement which has no equal place for students, workers and the unemployed youths of Kenya as well as millions of rural peasants. If they must join the movement then they are forced into the lowest caste.
It should raise eye brows that on an issue as fundamental as membership to the organization, Thirdway has chosen to borrow the retrogressive model of the status quo parties of Kenya. The noxious consequencies of this varied membership model are already being felt whereby members who have not yet paid up are being openly threatened with expulsion from the movement. This creates an impression that there are members within the Thirdway oligarchy who are mainly interested in using this movement as a cash cow.
Complaints are already emerging on the poor quality of T-shirts that are being produced at inflated cost by one of the officials close to you Dr Ekuru. The better alternative to this elitist model of categorizing members would have been to allow free membership then let members contribute according to their abilities. In the Christian tradition , it has been long acknowledged that it is not necessarily the person who gives the highest absolute amount that should receive the praise of being committed to the course. In addition, a political movement must not be run like a funeral committee.
- USE OF TRIBALISM AS A CAMPAIGN TOOL BY DR EKURU.
One of the foundational principles of Thirdway was to inaugurate the end of tribalism as an instrument of acquiring political power. The use of tribalism to appeal to the masses has been greatly condemned by all progressive voices in Kenya. In a 2012 speech, the then chief justice Dr Willy Mutunga criticized the phenomenon of the vernacular politician in Kenya in which an emerging leader first aspires to become a tribal chief by galvanizing tribal votes. While Thirdway originally condemned tribalism, there has been a steady drift towards making Thirdway first a tribal party.
Having traveled with Thirdway to areas where the locals share a language with Dr Ekuru, I saw first hand ethnic mobilization that we had been condemning back in Nairobi. There was the re-enactment of the ‘mtu wetu’ narrative in which the common denominator between the Thirdway leader and the locals was the tribe. The intentions of the leadership was confirmed when a few days later a camel was picked as the symbol of Thirdway against the wishes of a majority of Thirdway members. Today the leadership in Thirdway has adopted a policy of first mobilizing the nomadic group as a stronghold thereby borrowing a script from the status quo. We cannot have a progressive future when we make it a continuation of the past.
I wish to state that while these differences do exist, we still share certain common positions. However these differences threaten to derail a movement that was at some point heralded by even those did not support it as a good idea. I raise these issues on behalf of all Thirdway members who share the same position that the movement needs serious internal reforms that would see it re-apply its progressive foundational principles. I have raised these issues before but no cogent responses have been put forth except for a few ad hominems.
I wish to reiterate my earlier positions that all members and leaders who were unfairly removed from the movement they helped build should be given an option of returning. It must also be remembered that Thirdway does not hold a patent to progressive thought in Kenya. In the absence of corrective measures that address issues raised in this letter as well as previous forums, aggrieved members will seriously consider publicly withdrawing support for your candidature and pursuing the dream of a progressive prosperous Kenya from a different space. This is their political right and they will not hesitate to invoke article 38 (1) of the constitution.
Thank you and God bless.
DR CHITAYI MURABULA
COMRADE IN STRUGGLE AND FOUNDING MEMBER, THIRDWAY ALLIANCE KENYA.