With the Kenyan elections at fever pitch you must have heard NASA’s campaign song “Tibim” and Jubilee’s “Tano Tena”. I look at how the campaigns have been shaped by the songs adopted as campaign songs by the two-leading political entities in Kenya.

Since the wave in the reintroduction of multiparty electoral politics in Africa in the 1990s, the world has been treated to the ups and downs that have come with multiparty elections in Africa. Africa has come a long way in electoral politics. Nic Cheeseman in his book Democracy in Africa: Successes, Failures and the Struggle for Political Reform brings out the challenges to democratic consolidation in Africa citing the examples of numerous states. I have taken much interest in elections and election studies in Africa, reading numerous works by both Western and African scholars who analyze the road to democracy in Africa. Particularly, I have been a keen follower of the Kenyan electoral process since 1997 when I was still in Primary School in Lukenya Academy. Having spent my entire formative years in Kenya, I have observed the electoral process since 1997 when President Daniel Moi was reelected. The 1997 elections were interesting, and as a young man, I recall the party symbols that were used. Moi and his party KANU had the ‘jogoo’ as the party symbols while Charity Ngilu’s SDP had the clock. She was a phenomenon then, people referred her “Masaa ya Ngilu”. Raila Odinga who ran on the National Development Party (NDP) had the symbol of a tractor – and people called him “Tinga”.

Nasa presidential candidate Raila Odinga

The elections of 2002 were historic in Kenya. With the merger of the opposition under the NARC umbrella, they were able to oust Moi’s project Uhuru Kenyatta. Mwai Kibaki was sworn in as president on a wheelchair at a memorable occasion in Uhuru Park. It was my final year in Primary School and the mood around the country was electric. The election in 2007 was followed by the unfortunate descent into election violence. ODM Party candidate Raila Odinga contested the election outcomes leading to reprisal communal attacks in many parts of the country. The 2013 elections ended up at the Supreme Court, where Raila Odinga’s coalition CORD unsuccessfully contested the outcome.

Jubilee’s Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto

Siasa Kenya


Despite the ethnized nature of Kenyan politics, one interesting thing is the fanfare that characterizes the electioneering process. I have not known a day in Kenya where politics is not discussed. The end of an election in Kenya is the start of politicking and planning for the next election. There is never a dull moment in Kenyan politics. As part of my literature review for my PhD thesis, I have gathered a lot of material on elections and electoral politics in Africa. One text that has drawn me to the Kenyan elections in Multiethnic Coalitions in Africa: Business Financing of Opposition Election Campaigns written by Leonardo Arriola. The book looks at patronage politics, ethnic cleavages and democratization in Africa. Its analysis touches on the asymmetry between post-colonial Africa and the ethnic mobilization in countries in Africa. Kenya falls under this analysis of ethnic balkanization and ethnic mobilization in the form of coalitions. The rise of ethnic coalitions in Kenya is a testament of the deep lying ethnic issues in the country. Party populism in Kenya is based on how much an ethnic leader can marshall his tribesmen and those of other tribes’ people to outdo the others.

Raila and Uhuru

Creativity in Campaign Songs

Despite the doom and gloom, Kenyan politics remains interesting especially on the creativity in the campaigns. The 2017 elections have been made more interesting by the campaign songs. Campaign songs add to the glitz and glamor of elections. The two major coalitions Jubilee and the National Super Alliance (NASA) have incorporated campaign songs that mobilize the electorate. Whereas campaign slogans are aimed at capturing the attention of people during campaign rallies, campaign songs generally radiate the mojo of the electorates. Jubilee’s campaign slogan is “Tuko Pamoja” which translates to we are together while that of NASA is “Mambo Yabadilika” meaning Change.

The two parties don’t have official campaign songs but some local artists have crafted campaign songs that have been adopted by NASA and Jubilee in their campaign trail. Tanzania’s ruling party CCM is known to have good campaign songs which were composed by the Tanzania One Theatre (TOT) Band. In the 2015 elections for instance, CCM outdid its closest rival Chadema with the hit song “CCM Mbele kwa Mbele”. By all means, the song must have been the song of the year in 2015. It spoke to the CCM supporters and also lambasted the opposition in very crafty manner. “CCM ni ile ile, oh ni ile ile… mwaka huu watatukoma,” these were some of the lyrics that galvanized the CCM base.

Nasa Tibim, Raila Tibim!

NASA has several songs that it has adopted for its campaign. Going by their coalition slogan “Mambo Yabadilika” the NASA coalition has adopted Hellena Ken’s gospel song with the same title to signify their change message. The song by Hellen Ken has been popularized by the NASA coalition and it is now synonymous with them. Going by the change theme, a Luhyia artist Amos Barasa has released the song “Bindu Bichenjanga” singing about change. The glitzy Luo song “Tibim” by Onyi Jalamo has so far been the most reverberant NASA campaign song. “Tibim” song recognizes all the NASA leaders led by its presidential candidate Raila Odinga, running mate Kalonzo Musyoka, Musalia Mudavadi, Moses Wetangula among others such as the Nairobi governor Evans Kidero. These songs add to the glitz and fanfare at rallies before the leaders make their speeches. Artist Lawi has also added to the list of the NASA songs as well as Sweet Star, the Kalenjin artist who has a Kalenjin remix Tibim song. The NASA team has also used Tanzania’s hit song “Muziki” by Darassa featuring Ben Pol to respond to Jubilee’s attacks with Raila telling off President Kenyatta “Blah Blah sitaki kusikia” then he dances as the song rolls on. Raila, popularly known as “Baba”, “Tinga”, “Agwambo” or “Jakom” or “Joshua” has had many songs by his tribesmen which idolize and praise him. One example is that by lady Maureem titles “Raila Jakom”. Kamba artist Ken Wa Maria has also sung a song praising Kalonzo Musyoka titled “Kalonzo ika nesa” which is sang in campaign rallies before Kalonzo speaks.

Jubilee, Tano Tena!

Kikuyu Gospel artist Ben Githae has released a campaign song in praise of Jubilee and its leaders incumbent Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. The song “Uhuru na Ruto Tano Tena” is a reminder of the much Jubilee has achieved in their first term in office and urges people to reelect them. The song in Swahili highlights the successes in the Jubilee administration. I have also come across a song by Kamande wa Kioi, a popular Kikuyu artist who sings praises to Uhuru Kenyatta. The song “Uhuru ni witu” sang in Kikuyu was a prayer request to have Uhuru freed from the ICC yoke before his election in 2013.

Onyi Papa Jay 2007 Song

However, the best campaign song has to be Onyi Papa Jay’s ODM song of 2007. The song combined Swahili and Luo lyrics to capture the process leading to the 2007 elections. The song gives a historical analysis of the formation of the ODM party. Combining Swahili and Luo narratives, the song gives details of the 2005 referendum that was won by the Orange team. The ODM team was led by the then Pentagon of Raila, Ruto, Mudavadi, Nyaga, Balala and Ngilu. Using Raila’s football commentary analogy, Onyi Papa Jay passionately narrates how ODM was going to beat PNU in the elections.

Campaign songs are important in mobilizing electorate around an agenda ahead of an election. Songs generally are an important medium of cultural expression in all societies. The campaign songs in Kenya explain the nature of Kenyan political landscape which is largely ethnic. However, the songs have also been embraced by the ethnic communities that make up the specific coalitions.