The swearing-in of 350 Members of Parliament and 67 senators one week after the governors’ inauguration, establishes the second of four arms of the Kenyan state. These two organs are among the nation’s most important oversight and legislative institutions.
Diverse parliamentarians are now responsible for debate, law-making and public accountability. They include teachers, comedians, journalists, farmers and informal vendors. That a few of them struggled with their oath of office in either Kiswahili or English must attract the attention of the Centre for Parliamentary Studies and Mzalendo Trust.
If Kenya is to avoid the experience of pretend democracies and authoritarianism so glaring in countries like India, Uganda, Hungary, Turkey and Russia, these two houses must jealously guard their independence from the national executive. The DNA of pretend democracies and authoritarian states are clear. Pretend democracies are led by machismo strongmen who rally the masses against corruption while threatening media houses and whistle-blowers, champion patriotic nationalism while incriminating minorities and promote open democracy while systematically centralising power.
The tension and walkout over the election of the two Speakers this week signals a restless Parliament. The first order of business issues after constituting committees must return to issues affecting millions of Kenyans. Rather than resurrecting the unconstitutional Constituency Development Fund, can representatives champion and track county and national investment into universal healthcare, education, and jobs?
If hospitals are meaningless with medicine or health workers, motorways without markets or jobs, are senseless. Only this, will reduce the avalanche of education, medical and burial harambees awaiting MPs.
Representatives must also turn to increasing faith in the electoral system. Electoral laws and IEBC funding must cap and make campaign financing more transparent and stop bribery and political influence over both the commission and the voter.
The IEBC must be funded to introduce mass continuous voter education now. The cost to the country of a Sh50 million-plus election for 14 million voters is too high. The cost of Sh15 million for party agents to safeguard votes of gubernatorial candidates over three days after election day should be made unnecessary.
Both Azimio la Umoja and Kenya Kwanza explicitly promised freedom for Kenyans. MPs must work together to address unemployment, vexatious criminalisation, and the labour conditions for all workers.
Their oversight must protect diasporan Kenyans. Women and men like migrant exploitation survivor and advocate Diana Chepkemoi who escaped hell in Saudi Arabia. Can she be invited to testify before Parliament and catalyse protection strategies for hundreds of men and women still boarding flights to semi-slavery?
The party and alliance manifestos were consistently silent on foreign policy. Will Kenya provide regional and international leadership, or will the state hang out and do secret deals with the pretend democracies over the next five years?
We now need Parliament to develop expertise, debate and oversight of foreign affairs and debt management. In three days, President-elect William Ruto will be sworn in. He has managed the post-election period skilfully and gracefully. His public statements have been respectful to his political competitors, IEBC, Judiciary as well as the international and national media.
Next week’s column will reflect on his leadership challenges, but it is important his inaugural Tuesday speech unequivocally repeats his Executive will not “revisit” state officers, corruption whistle-blowers or political opponents. Protect journalists Stephen Letoo and Brenda Wanga’s right to ask awkward questions. They and thousands of others will protect the Kenya Kwanza manifesto, Mr President-elect.
Actor Denzil Washington’s recent advice to Will Smith is instructive for your office and other leaders. Beware of the devil he says, lest he slips in at the time of victory to crush you and your dreams. The time for negative campaigns against “others” is over, now is the time for statesmanship.
Let’s avoid the temptation to make devils or angels out of any of the representatives and prepare to make the 13th Parliament work for all Kenyans.
First published in The Standard on 10th September 2022. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard.
Irũngũ Houghton is Amnesty International Kenya Executive Director and writes in his personal capacity. Email: [email protected]