Monday, April 20, 2009

Parliament Likely to Squander Kenya’s Second Chance

Kenya’s 10th parliament resumes house business after the state opening ceremony on April 21st 2009 in the wake of a national opinion poll that is a clear reflection of disillusionment, disappointment and overwhelming lack of confidence in three arms of government. According to the poll by the Steadman 53% Kenyans are strongly opposed to the grand coalition government while only 31% support the government. A steep decline from the 77% that supported the government in September last year and 61% in December last year. If the poll is anything to go by over 70% of Kenya’s doubt the coalition government’s ability to survive the full five year term expiring in 2012. 53% of Kenyans would actually prefer that country goes to fresh elections at the earliest opportunity.
As the body that brings together the peoples representatives and is in practice the mother of all the other arms of government; through its law making role mps make the laws that establish the judiciary, its also from among its members that individuals constituting the executive are appointed, Parliament bears the greatest responsibility of restoring not only public support but also international good will and support that the grand coalition government has so ably squandered over the last one year. The actions and omissions of the tenth parliament through this session will either make or break the grand coalition government and consequently determine the way forward for the Kenyan people.
To turn this situation around MPs must take several drastic actions. First MPs must win back the confidence of the public, by loosing the tag and image of selfishness and obsession with self interest at the expense of the Kenyan country: they must accept to have their perks subjected to the tax man’s axe. They must also take the bold step of enacting legislation barring them selves and future parliaments from awarding themselves pay rises in the absence of a clear procedure outside parliament. This is however very unlikely, considering the stiff opposition this proposal has previously met from this very same parliament. The Akimumi tribunal country collecting views from the public across the country is also a good excuse to postpone the decision on MPs salaries. They can now hide behind the tribunal arguing that it would be imprudent to take any action before the have a comprehensive report and recommendations from the tribunal.
Parliament also has a second chance to win back both local and international trust by establishing a water tight, credible local tribunal to try those who bear the greatest responsibility in organizing, financing and perpetuating the 2008 post election chaos that left over 1000 Kenyans dead in ethnic based conflict and over 300, 000 others internally displaced. The governments last attempt to have parliament pass two bills critical to the establishment of the tribunal were defeated on the floor of the house, in a vote that humiliated both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga who sat and watched MPs from their parties vote against the bill in spite of days of lobbying. After the defeat of these bills MPs from across the political divide went around the country gloating over their victory in the matter. Agriculture minister William Ruto is on record saying at a public rally that with the defeat of the bill “the matter is now left to the International Criminal Court at the Hague, and knowing how the ICC works it is very unlikely that ‘our’ case will come before the ICC before 2090! How many of us will still be alive then?” While the government maintains its intention to re-introduce the matter before the house during this session, with this kind of talk from among its top leaders it’s unlikely that these bills will see the light of day. The formation of the tribunal is a crucial indicator of the countries leaders’ commitment to dealing with impunity and steering Kenya away from the destructive path leading to the abyss Kenya almost descended to in 2008.
Parliament’s handling of corruption through this session will also determine public perceptions and trust in the institution. During the last session at least two censure motions were brought against two ministers over allegations of graft. While the censure motion against current Trade Minister Amos Kimunya over the controversial sale of the Grand Regency (now Grand Laico) hotel was overwhelmingly endorsed, the same house later rejected a report by a parliamentary committee probing the matter. In the same spirit of political compromises and collaboration, the censure motion against Agriculture Minister William Ruto was defeated on the floor of the house. The issues raised in the motion over a scandal in the handling of maize in countries strategic grain reserve remain unresolved. Will parliament demand that results of an audit commissioned by the office of the prime minister on the scandal be made public. Will the house prone allegations of the fresh probe in the maize scandal that saw imported grain ruled unfit for human consumption by the Kenya Bureau of Standards disappear in mysterious circumstances?
The constitution review process will also be an acid test for the 10th parliament. While the committee of experts is currently working quietly identifying the areas of agreement and the contentious issues, MPs will play a critical role in the resolution of the contentious issues and setting a conducive political environment for a referendum on the proposed law. However MPs this time around need to learn from the mistakes of the 2005 referendum where political interests from the antagonizing sides not only interfered with the writing of the law, but also poisoned the atmosphere ahead of the referendum. Have the politicians learnt? Can they keep the review process safe from the issues informing the prevailing wrangling in government? Will the considerations and posturing for the next elections take precedence over national good?
Ultimately Parliament is also very critical to the overall reforms process, as all laws bringing change to the various arms of government will need to come through the house. The house has however in many instances failed to live up to its role and frustrated laws important for the country at the alter of political compromises or in a bid to settle political scores. With Kenyans having expressed their lack of confidence in the government’s ability to steer the reform process, the honors may just be on individual members to utilize provisions that allow private members bills and motions to bring before the house, bills that the government lacks political will or courage to push in Kenya’s interest. Will parliament meet the demands of the moment? Will this institution rise to the occasion and save Kenya or twill MPs once again squander Kenya’s second chance?

Monday, April 13, 2009


Kenya’s grand coalition government this week marks exactly one year since its members were sworn in and took office. On the 13th of April 13, 2009, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga announced the list of 40 minister and 52 assistants than would form Africa’s first ever grand coalition government. A year down the line that government remains on the rocks in spite of the apparent cessation of hostilities between the coalition partners. Recent events increasingly raising doubts on the coalition’s ability to hold through the next 3 years to the 2012 elections.
After a week of heavy fire from across the political divide, following the collapse of the coalition talks in Kilaguni last weekend, a deceptive calm has seemingly set in, in spite of the fact that the outstanding issues that led to last weeks crisis remain unresolved. The calm is largely attributed to the intervention by former un secretary general Kofi Annan who reportedly called both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga, with an appeal to them to remember their responsibility to the Kenyan public.
Rail and Kibaki are expected to hold their first face to face, since the collapsed Kilaguni talks later this week. Questions linger however on how effective that meeting will be in resolving the issues dogging the coalition government. Raila had in an outpouring of outrage over the week accused his colleague at the coalition’s helm of not only being disrespectful but also running the government in a primitive and less than professional manner. Will he face Kibaki with these allegations? If he does what will be Kibaki’s response? Any Kenyan would be shocked if he heard that Kibaki apologized and promised to be better behaved next time? President Kibaki on the other hand, went on business as usual, as far as he is concerned there is no crisis, he actually went out the country in the wake of stalemate? What will it take to awake him to the fact that he is running a government that is at least 50% extremely disgruntled.
Indeed from where I stand, I do not see an end to the wrangling within the grand coalition government soon regardless of the current lull. For starters, it is unlikely that Kibaki and his backers would cave to Raila and ODM’s demand for greater inclusion in the running of the grand coalition, and even if he did that would not be the end of ODM's discontent. What difference would it make if for example by the end of the week, Raila’s salary is matched to that of the President and government protocol is officially revised to recognize him as second in command, the head of public service and its holder are moved to the Prime minister Office, and ODM is allowed to appoint half of the countries permanent secretaries, ambassadors and parastal chiefs? I doubt that they would go round the country rejoicing over their inclusion eventually. If they did so they would be giving up their tactical advantage and fully sharing with their PNU side, the full baggage of the unpopularity that comes with being the face of government. Indeed in that one week of protests against Kibaki and PNU, Raila has managed to win some public sympathy as the victim in this setting and in the same blow, distracted the masses from the pressing issues of poverty , hunger, inflation ….etc that the country is looking up to the government to fix. My guess is for as long as the coalition government exists, one side will always play victim and paint the other villain for political advantage. That is however not to say that ODM’s protests are completely without merit.
However thanks to international pressure and the lack of operational transitional institutions like the electoral commission, the two sides will remain in the coalition albeit as unhappy partners in a failed marriage. I am however not convinced that the endurance will spread through to 2012, the prevalent political re-alignments are in my view indications of preparations for an early election, most likely before the end of next year. Soon the electoral commission issue will be dispensed off as soon as parliament is recalled. The constitution review process is already underway, although the committee of experts appointed to spear head the process has been almost invisible, the experts have been working quietly in the background and are reportedly making progress in spite of numerous challenges like the governments failure to provide them with offices. It is my belief that this process will soon gain more visibility and political contributions that will clearly expose the underlying mechanizations in preparation for elections. Should this group deliver a new law; the stage will be set for the polls. Should they fail, this will only give fresh momentum to calls for an election. The argument being that only a democratically elected government can deliver a new constitution.
Gichugu MP Martha Karua’s dramatic resignation from the cabinet further gives credence to the view that early polls may be in the offing. Skeptics have argues that she lacks both the financial resources and political networks to sustain a campaign over the next 3 years. She probably knows that she does not need to survive the three years. She will be one to watch and my bet is that she will throw in her all over the next one year as it may just be a make or break for her.
Religious leaders both Christian and Muslim are also on record advocating for a fresh election as a solution to the failed grand coalition experiment. While their arguments may hold some water, questions linger on if the country is really ready for the polls. Ethnic suspicions still run deep and the people are still vulnerable to political manipulation that would lead the country to yet another crisis. Kenyans are also disillusioned with the current crop of leaders. An early election may just mean choosing between two evil sides. Waiting until 2012 may provide an opportunity for new options. What is better for the country, enduring a poorly performing disjointed government for the next 3 years with the hope that circumstances will have changed by 2012 or bite the bullet and risk all at an early election. Whatever the options, Kenya is in a dilemma and the way forward looks increasingly hazy. Kenya has just come to the fork of the cross – which way Kenya?