Friday, June 29, 2012



By Jerry Okungu
Nairobi, Kenya
June 26, 2012

Last week was like no other week in Kenya. Politics reached its crescendo. It was drama after drama in parliament. Never mind that both the President and his Prime Minister were out of the country. The former was in Rio de Jenairo attending a climate conference while the latter was attending a World Economic Forum in Moscow with President Putin.

Since the formation of the grand coalition government in 2008, the two principals have hardly agreed on many things. However, on this one, they concluded that that the rogue parliament had overstepped its bounds.

What did the law makers do that irked Kenyans, the President and the Prime Minister so much? They passed a bunch of amendments that drastically diluted electoral laws to safeguard their interests. One such law was to allow presidential candidates to contest all the available vacancies on voting day. What the bill meant was to allow the names of the presidential candidates to also appear on ballot papers for senators, governors, MPs and county representatives. In other words, should a presidential candidate miss the presidency, she stood the best chance or being elected to another post.

The bill also sought to allow presidential aspirants who failed to make it to the State House to be automatically nominated to parliament to cushion them from being locked out for five years. It there meant that seats reserved by the constitution for minorities and the vulnerable groups would be grabbed by losers in the presidential race.

However, the most abrasive bill passed that night was to allow political promiscuity among members parliament. Whereas the Act of Parliament as it stands today compels a Member of Parliament to seek reelection once she abandons the party that sponsored her to Parliament, the amendment allowed MPs to change parties at will without the fear of losing their seats. Incidentally this amendment was sponsored by an MP who had recently announced that he would contest the presidency on the ticket of another party.

The last raft of the amendments on that fateful night was to bar Kenyans who had no university degrees from contesting parliamentary, senate, governor or presidential elections. On passing it, this bill automatically barred 80 sitting MPs from the next general elections unless they attained their university degrees in the next six months.

Just hours before the two principals landed at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, Civil Society groups had taken to the streets demanding the repeal of these amendments that Kenyans saw abuse of the of powers of parliament.

Led by the former vice chairperson of the Committee of Experts that drafted the Kenyan Constitution and now Chief Executive Officer of the Kenya Human Rights Commission, Ms Atsango Chesoni minced no words. She handed in the two terse statements to the Office of the President and The Speaker of the National Assembly.

Though the Atsango led demo was generally peaceful, it left no doubt in anybody’s mind what Kenyans would do if the government and parliament did not read the writing on the wall. Kenyans had exhausted their patience with their rogue parliament that had become synonymous with selfishness and reckless spending of public funds on themselves.

Just after the shameful bills had been passed, a nominated MP was heard telling the Speaker of the National Assembly that under his watch, Parliament had become a disgrace in the eyes of Kenyans.

This sentiment was not unique to the nominated MP. It was the general feeling of the opinions of most Kenyans sampled on social media, mainstream media and other forums one could chance on. Parliamentarians had abdicated their role as representatives of the people who elected them. Every bill they had passed in recent days had something to do with their vested interests. Interestingly most of these controversial bills were always passed late into the night when the same MPs chose to extend their sittings. More often than not, such bills always sailed through with a mere 30 MPs in the august house.

On the flip side; there was one bill that these MPs passed that deserved accolades for them. This was the amendment that barred Kenyan without university education from be elected to either the National Assembly or the Senate. I know many Kenyans at home and abroad have differed on this one.

While some saw it as an affront to the constitution to bar a category of Kenyans from vying for these elective posts on account of having no university education; others like this writer thought it was the best thing that could have happened to Kenyan politics since 1963.

Because of the laxity in our electoral laws, thieves and common criminals with plenty of cash and nothing else have found their way into our national politics and in the process disenfranchised the more informed and better educated Kenyans. Because of this leisefair attitude to our politics, the same rich illiterate thugs have introduced violence into our politics.

It is true we had so many good parliamentarians who had no university education 50 years ago. However, it was also the reason Jomo Kenyatta declared war on ignorance, poverty and disease right from day one. It is the reason Tom Mboya airlifted hundreds of Kenyans to American universities to go get trained and come back to manage the affairs of the state. For the same reason, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga opened avenues for more Kenyans to get educated in USSR and Eastern Europe. These leaders knew the value of university education.

Kenya, like any other African country cannot today, 50 years later turn its back on a good education as a requirement for good management of our politics.