Friday, February 13, 2009



By Jerry Okungu
Africa News On Line
Nairobi, Kenya
February 13, 2009

I watched the Constitution Amendment Bill in Parliament this week. It reminded me of the tense session George W Bush faced during the American Senate’s Bailout Bill late last year. On that day fellow Republican senators voted against their own president. They defeated the bill that the President had brought to Congress to provide Americans with a lifeline out of the economic doldrums the President himself had created through useless wars in distant lands.

What I can say for Kenyans is that it can only auger well for our democratic process. Finally we are beginning to reap the fruits of years of political activism against authoritarian Executive. If Parliament can liberate itself from the clutches of the Executive then the next frontier where the war must be fought will be at the judiciary.

It may be sad for others that the government lost the vote to an amorphous opposition. At the same time, there are others who must be celebrating that the government lost the vote due to a bad bill it hurriedly put together for convenience to once again hoodwink unsuspecting Kenyans. Whichever side one finds oneself; it is only fair to wait until all the facts behind the voting pattern come out one way or another.

For many years, Kenyans had lost faith in the institution of Parliament for a variety of reasons all the way from Jomo Kenyatta’s era. From the time Kenyatta proscribed KPU in 1969; in effect killing the official opposition, Kenya became a one-party state as Parliament was turned into an Executive stooge. It became the rubber stamp institution of the regime. It went on a series of uncalled for constitutional amendments merely to please the Executive and add more powers to it.

As the Executive eroded Parliamentary independence; the full weight of an oppressive and overbearing Executive was felt by ordinary Kenyans. Their freedoms of expression and association were taken away at will. Executive excesses got bolder with each passing day. Those deemed to be enemies of the Executive were eliminated at will and with impunity. Cases in point are the murders of Tom Mboya, JM Kariuki, Robert Ouko and many more Kenyans like Kungu Karumba whose fates will never be known; probably forever.

Some people have suggested that a powerful Mt. Kenya cabinet minister bribed MPs from his region to vote against the bill. I say this is hogwash. Others have suggested that party leaders secretly detailed some of their members to vote differently to defeat the motion. Again I say this is a white lie.

The truth is, not Kibaki, Raila, Uhuru, Mudavadi and not even William Ruto or Kalonzo Musyoka had any control on the voting pattern in Parliament. All of them did what they could in their powers but their MPs just rebelled against them.

It is this rebellion in the face of intimidating notes and messages from the government meant to influence the voting pattern in Parliament that is good for Kenya’s democracy. It means that cabinet ministers are now past the idea that those appointments are meant to make them toe government line even if the Executive is taking the country into a ditch.

This brings me to my next point: As much as we inherited the West Minster type of Parliamentary System, must we continue practicing archaic traditions like appointing the Cabinet from among Members of Parliament? Isn’t it now time to experiment with other forms of democracy like the United States which incidentally is as presidential as ours to allow MPs to be MPs rather than turning them into anything and everything?

The vote on Wednesday proved two fundamental paradigm shifts taking place in our democratization process; that Parliament was coming of age and that it was growing out of the intimidation mode. Secondly, Parliamentarians were realizing that to be bribed to vote was getting out of fashion in an increasingly transparent society where all dark deeds done under the cover of darkness were more likely to come out in the open one way or the other.

If MPs can stand their ground on matters of national interest even if it means stepping on the toes of party owners; so be it. If MPs can resist the temptation to sell their votes in Parliament, it will be good for this country because it will be the beginning of the nation reclaiming its lost conscience. After all, when MPs begin to realize that their bosses are not in the Executive but rather the voters then Parliament will truly be a house of representatives.

The rebellion in Parliament mid this week did not start yesterday. It started way back in the early 1980s when true patriots of this country rose up against the system that was suffocating its people. Moi may have suppressed the armed rebellion and hanged a few others. He may even have thrown a few others into long jail terms and detention without trial. However, he failed to kill the spirit of rebellion against an insensitive Executive. Today, some of those that Moi jailed and detained or forced into exile are serving Kenya in many different capacities and doing it well.

The spirit that made Martin Shikuku, James Aggrey Orengo and others defy guns and go to a Kamukunji meeting is the same spirit that today makes Boni Khalwale stand up in Parliament, look at a cabinet minister in the eye and tell him he has no moral authority to be in the cabinet. That spirit should not be allowed to die until this country becomes a truly a democratic state.

What happened in Parliament is a warning shot to those party leaders who still think they are the Alpha and Omega of Kenyan politics. Party leaders had better differentiate between leadership and ownership. What the MPs are saying is that in the party and in Parliament, they are equal partners and nobody owns them in as far as their individual freedoms of choice are concerned.

The local Tribunal vote may have been lost, but Kenyans must begin to see the big picture. In defeating this bill, MPs have asserted their authority as an independent institution like never before. It has proved that those days are gone when an MP could be arrested in the precincts of Parliament for opposing a government bill or for making disparaging remarks against the Executive.

It is this new found freedom why Ababu Namwamba is still walking free despite including the name of the President’s wife in the list of NCP raiders. At other times in history, he would have been a guest of the state in the dungeons of Nyayo House in a pool of chilling water waist deep!