Saturday, April 13, 2013

Madam Speaker: At times we call it destiny

Deputy speaker Joyce Laboso during the interview on April 4, 2013 at parliament buildings. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI

Deputy speaker Joyce Laboso during the interview on April 4, 2013 at parliament buildings. Photo/JENNIFER MUIRURI   NATION MEDIA GROUP

By CAROLINE WAFULA cwafula@ke.nationmedia.com

It was late afternoon on June 10, 2008.

Dr Joyce Cherono Laboso, then a lecturer at Egerton University, had stopped by a Nakuru supermarket for some household items after delivering her morning lectures.

She was walking up and down the supermarket staircases sampling items when she saw the breaking news on the television screen. And just then her phone rang. It was her husband Edwin Abonyo. “Have you heard?” he asked.

A plane had crashed into a small hill in the Enoosupukia Forest near the Maasai Mara. Aboard were her sister Lorna Laboso, then an assistant minister, and then minister for Roads Kipkalya Kones. There were no survivors.

Moment of shock

She went numb, staring blankly at the screens. Just then a colleague from the university came to her aid and assisted her walk to the car.

What followed were moments of shock, grief and mourning her younger sister whose political star was beginning to rise.

Speaking to the Sunday Nation, Dr Laboso recalled having “this empty feeling” as she left the university.

The emptiness was underlined because she had spoken to her sister on her mobile phone that morning about some political meetings scheduled for that day.

What she didn’t know was that events of that unfortunate day would significantly alter the path of her life.

It is barely five years since the tragedy, and Dr Joyce Cherono Laboso is today Kenya’s first female Deputy Speaker. It is not something she had ever dreamt of before she joined politics. And she believes hers is a story of destiny.

It can only be God, she says, adding “I don’t believe anything happens by chance and I don’t believe God does anything for nothing,” she told the Sunday Nation.

In the interview, she opened up on her four years and five months journey in politics that have earned her a place of pride in the annals of the country’s history.

Before her sister’s demise, the mother of two had never considered politics for any chapter of her life. She was comfortable teaching. She was only forced to step into her sister’s shoes, something she did reluctantly and after a lot of convincing.

ODM, the party on whose ticket her sister had been elected, had decided that the seat should remain in the family. In turn, the family decided that Dr Laboso should go for it in the by-election that followed.

She actually resisted the offer, convinced that politics was not her calling. She even believed that she wouldn’t get past the nomination stage and she accepted the honour “just so as not to disappoint anyone for rejecting it”.

It was, therefore, a big surprise when she sailed through the nominations and the race to succeed her sister as Sotik MP.

After her election

In the months that followed her by-election victory on September 25, 2008, Dr Laboso would learn more about the August House and politics.

And, as fate would have it, barely a year after her election, former Eldoret East MP Prof Margaret Kamar, who was a member of the Speaker’s Panel, was appointed to the Cabinet leaving a vacancy in the Speaker’s committee. She was seconded by ODM to replace Prof Kamar in the committee.

It came too soon but she found it interesting learning the ropes of her new role. As a Temporary Speaker, she had to deal with politicians, all with diverse and conflicting interests that arise from time to time on the floor of the House. She also had to learn names of many of the MPs and their parties.

And perhaps to confirm her belief that hers is a story of destiny, her stint as Temporary Speaker seems to have been preparing her for the seat on an official status.

Only after her election on Thursday, March 28, as Deputy Speker in the 11th Parliament would this become clearer. Her political destiny was taking shape.

Just like she got elected to the Sotik seat in 2008, she believes her election as Deputy Speaker is only a chapter in the story of her unfolding destiny.

There was no serious effort on her part. She pondered and said: “Destiny. Sometimes we call it that.”

More importantly, however, is that she was the only one among all candidates for Speaker and Deputy Speaker in both the Senate and the National Assembly who garnered more than two-thirds majority.

“It’s a bit overwhelming and quite humbling and I thank God and the people of Sotik for electing me once again because it has taken me a notch higher,” she said.

From her experience in the 10th Parliament, she knows that it’s not a bed of roses.

“It’s not easy being Speaker,” says Dr Laboso. “Politics, really, is an arena of interest. You are constantly juggling between different interests so that MPs see you as the most impartial.”

There were occasions when she has had to throw even some of her closest friends out of the House for disorderly conduct.

“In the House I am the Speaker and it has got nothing to do with friends or one’s party members, everyone is equal in the Speaker’s eyes,” she said.

“The Speaker’s role is to bring order in the House, it is about finding balance where there is tension and dealing with people who sometimes can become adversarial in nature,” said Dr Laboso.

There’s also the power aspect which has to be tempered with reason.

She recalls issuing an order barring the then Deputy Prime Minister and minister for Finance Uhuru Kenyatta from transacting any business in the House until he had furnished the it with some information that was required. He complied, really fast for that matter and that impressed her.

“It was interesting to see how much power you can have when on that seat, that you can issue orders and they are complied with,” she said. “I still strive to ensure there is balance in all.”

There is one time though when she was accused of being biased in favour of women MPs. And she confesses that it was on a matter that touched on women and she felt the female legislators would give more substance to the debate.

“I don’t think it would be a crime if in the discharge of my duties as Speaker I can also be able to advance the women agenda because Parliament is where laws are made,” she stated.