With a muzzled civil society after a concerted State crackdown in the run-up to the last General Election and now an opposition in disarray, there is growing concern that nobody is left to offer checks and balances to possible government excesses.
Matters are worsened by the fact that Parliament is perceived by many as an appendage of the Executive since the ruling party has the majority of members.
The church, which would ordinarily step in to fill the void, has also been accused of a feeble and inconsistent voice in the running of public affairs.
And now many reckon that two months after President Uhuru Kenyatta and Opposition leader Raila Odinga shook hands at Harambee House, vowing to work together, the role of the opposition in keeping the government in check has significantly waned.
Although political lieutenants of the two leaders have maintained that the opposition will continue to play its oversight role as before, the vigour in tearing the government and holding it to account has gone down.
Politicians from both camps fear being seen as undermining the cooperation between their respective party leaders, men who fiercely fought for the country’s top job on August 8 before Mr Odinga boycotted the repeat poll on October 26.
Some politicians like Moses Kuria, the lawmaker from Gatundu South who rose to the national limelight mainly by constantly bashing Mr Odinga, admits that in the wake of the handshake, they have been forced to rebrand themselves.
“You realise that podium politics has for now ended. The beauty is some of us have other things to do, so we will not be rendered idle,” he said.
There has been lack of hard hitting statements from the opposition on the recent scandal at the National Youth Service (NYS) where it is alleged that some Sh9 billion has been siphoned through fictitious payments.
But National Assembly Minority Leader John Mbadi accuses the media of painting a picture that the handshake has eroded the oversight role of the opposition.
“This idea that we are no longer playing our part as far as keeping the government in check is just a creation of the media. Can’t you see I have called you here today to talk about the NYS scandal? We will continue to play our role as the opposition despite the handshake,” Mr Mbadi said.
The Suba South MP called on Auditor-General Edward Ouko to carry out a special audit of the NYS accounts and present his report to Parliament for implementation.
Chairman of the National Assembly Public Accounts Committee (PAC) Opiyo Wandayi said the country must work towards institutionalising alternative voices that can hold the government to account instead of leaving it to one person as has been the case.
“The role of holding the government to account has, over the years, been left to one person – Raila; so every time he makes a move like the handshake, everything comes to a standstill,” Mr Wandayi told the Sunday Nation.
The Ugunja MP, however, maintained that despite the handshake, Mr Odinga’s principles on matters of corruption and good governance remain the same.
Mr Wandayi said that as far as PAC is concerned, nothing has changed and they will continue to play their oversight role through the committee.
“As a committee, we cannot prosecute matters of corruption in the public gallery but within the precincts of Parliament as guided by the Standing Orders. Those involved in scandals touching on public money should brace themselves for hard times ahead,” Mr Wandayi said.
According to University of Nairobi lecturer Herman Bond Manyora, the opposition is in limbo and is yet to find its bearings following the handshake.
He pointed out that in the absence of Mr Odinga, it will take the country time to find a person who can keep the government in check as he has done over the years.
“Let us be honest with ourselves as a country. Raila occupies space that no one else can occupy. He is like a monument and our only hope is that he will whisper to President Kenyatta that some things are not right and need to be fixed,” Prof Manyora said.
So far, ANC party leader Musalia Mudavadi, an ally of Mr Odinga’s in the last elections, has demanded action following reports of theft at the NYS.
The Principal Secretary, Lilian Mbogo Omollo, and Director-General Richard Ndubai, have since stepped aside following public pressure generated by the theft scandal.
In the original quartet that also had Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and his Ford Kenya counterpart Moses Wetang’ula, not much has been heard as reports emerge that each of them is focusing their attention on the 2022 elections, with possible realignments in the offing.
Together with Mr Mudavadi, the trio has been accused of squandering a chance to reinvigorate the opposition after Mr Odinga chose to work with the government.
“Nobody has really explained to the opposition what the handshake means; they are still looking at each other waiting for Mr Odinga to say something before making a move,” Prof Manyora added.
Mr Suba Churchill, the convener of Civil Society Organisation Reference Group, said they are worried about the handshake as it will completely weaken the opposition.
“As civil society, we are worried that with the handshake, the country is slowly sliding into a monolithic governance system where dissenting views are completely silenced,” Mr Churchill said.
“The opposition should be very careful while working with the government so that it is not completely merged and forget its oversight role,” he said.
He regretted that civil society which would have played the role of keeping the government in check had borne the brunt of the government in the run-up to the 2017 General Election.
Immediately after the handshake, Speaker of the National Assembly Justin Muturi told the opposition to continue playing its oversight role, noting that the Constitution recognises the role of the opposition.
“This is a great opportunity for MPs to work for the public without acrimony as has been the case. We still recognise the role of the opposition,” he said.
Prof Peter Ndege, who lectures at Moi University, holds that in the short run, the handshake may have negative consequences on Kenya’s institutions.
“For instance, now that the two major political parties are working together, the fate and role of the opposition are challenged. Who will keep the government in check? Will the political process lead to the evolution of two strong parties with alternative ideologies as in Britain and the United States of America? In my opinion our regimes will simply continue to reflect persistent shifts from one ethnic and political elite coalition and realignment to another,” he says.
He thinks that the handshake is bound to impact negatively on Parliament, the policy making institution.
“Whilst it has weakened Jubilee MPs who always benefited from their tyranny of numbers, its overall impact will further weaken the August House as actual policy making initiatives now vest in the hands of the two leaders and the committees they appoint.”
He also believes that the handshake will lead to a spirit of reconciliation which will weaken oversight institutions like those in charge of anti-corruption.
“Some corrupt individuals will take advantage of this conciliatory spirit to engage in unprecedented acts of impunity. But since politics is the art of the possible, let us give the handshake a chance,” he said.