Thoughts On Way Forward for
07. March 2008
Yesterday, Kenya's 10th Parliament convened formally, to implement
the Harambee House Accord. Kenya's urban middle classes bask in
the justified relief of our country being pulled back from the
very brink of civil war. But the 600,000 Kenyans living in
appalling destitution in IDP camps have nothing to celebrate.
The lavish motorcades to Parliament, the assurances of speedy
economic recovery, the pretense that everything is "back to
business as usual", are the clearest signs we could have of the
criminal blindness and self-interest of the political class. This
is the blindness and greed that dragged Kenya into this crisis in
the first place. Never again can Kenyans allow the power and
resources of the country to be concentrated in the hands of a tiny,
So what must we do?
Firstly, stay involved in civil society initiatives set up in the
past two months. Rescue Kenya offers a comprehensive list of the
groups and organizations set up, across all sectors, from civilian
humanitarian relief to political action. Among the forces that
brought Kenya back from the abyss, the strength and speed with
which Kenyan civil society mobilized, domestically and
internationally, cannot be discounted.
Secondly, participate in the political process. Tom Maliti, AP
Kenya correspondent, offers this blueprint:
"As citizens, it is our national duty to remind our parliamentary
leaders that this is not just about them. It is about all of us.
"How do we do that? Many of us went to the same school with a
current member of parliament or have worked with them or just
attended a half day seminar with them before they became
politicians. Or it was their relative we were in school with or
the person we know is an aide or key ally.
"We are connected. This is one time we need to make those
connections work. Individually, for example writing to them, or
collectively through the neighbourhood association.
"If the member of parliament is not easy to reach, try your local
councillor. Many councillors live in the ward they represent and
are easy to find. Many also act as grassroots mobilisers or
coordinators for members of parliament and can easily get in touch
with the area member of parliament.
"Under the arrangement elaborated in the accords, there is not
going to be a significant opposition in parliament. So who will
act as a check on the government? Ensure that what the politicians
have agreed to is implemented? As citizens we will be required to
be more vigilant than before.
"In the months to voting day, lots of questions were raised about
the type of political parties we have. The chaotic nominations of
parliamentary and civic candidates prompted many of those
questions. The general sense was, "Well, that is politics for you".
It doesn't have to be that way. And there's a possible answer: the
Political Parties Bill.
"It was passed by parliament in November and is waiting for the
assent of President Mwai Kibaki. The importance of this bill is it
proposes to steer our political parties to become mature
organizations that are responsive to their members and have a
The Political Parties Bill requires political parties to report
each year to the Registrar of Political Parties on their
membership countrywide, financing and other issues. If passed, a
lot of briefcase parties will disappear simply for failing the
membership criteria. The bill also provides for the Treasury to
give some funding to parties with a certain level of
representation at the council or National Assembly level. This
could, I emphasise could, help political parties ease the grip
people with deep pockets have on them. The catch is this: it does
not have clear criteria on limits of funding by an individual or
company, nor does it make it mandatory for parties to disclose who
is funding them and how.
"The Political Parties Bill offers an opportunity towards a
different politics. Talk to your MP to talk to the president to
sign the bill into law.
"But matters do not end there. Assuming your preferred political
party is able to recruit a substantial and committed national
membership, is able to fundraise for its needs, will willingly and
publicly account for the monies, and has a clear agenda that is
tied to principles and not individuals, where are the people to
make all this happen?
"A big challenge for any political party today is staff. From the
simplest job to the most complex. Many people volunteer their
time, services and money during election time. Once the election
is over, however, they go back to their routines. And yet we still
expect political parties to work and satisfy our ideals of what
politics should be. Why?
"If you recognise Kenya is at a historical moment and want to make
a contribution, opportunity is knocking at your door. Answer, give
time to your preferred political party, even if it is just one
Saturday a month.
"If you don't, who will?"
Shailja Patel, a Kenyan poet and writer, blogged on Mshale and
is now devoting her time to work on the ground in Nairobi with
Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice.