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Inside the conflicted soul of Kenyan politics

Thursday October 11 2018

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Wednesday was a public holiday, Moi Day, a holiday that was phased out by the 2010 Constitution, but one that a judge ruled is still legally a public holiday, as Parliament is yet to degazette it.

This is a timely reminder of where things stand with Parliament and the Kenyan people.

The National Assembly just got back from a month-long recess that was briefly interrupted by the stormy passing of amendments to the Finance Bill 2018.

The Senate too is back after a week-long historic sitting in Eldoret, the first such session to ever be held outside Nairobi. Even as they spent a week in Uasin Gishu they were careful not to be seen as joyriding on a trip that had been budgeted for at Sh32 million for the week.

Senate leaders from government and opposition sides were keen to emphasise that the trip had actually saved money for taxpayers, as they were able to carry out their oversight role in a different county, meet local leaders and receive petitions from people who would otherwise have had to travel to be heard at the Senate in Nairobi.

They also promised to hold more sittings in even more remote counties such as Turkana and Lamu to understand the country better.

The most notable moment of the week was a Senate committee hearing on delayed payments to maize farmers during which Eldoret farmers and residents berated the leaders for allowing cartels to hijack the agriculture sector.

While Senators may see this as a vindication of their visit to connect with the people, it is likely that farmers would have given the same statements to any other government official if given a microphone and a forum to vent their frustration. These all comes at a time when the government is struggling to bridge a budget deficit of over 500 billion shillings.

In a speech on his reasons for seeking to change the Finance Bill 2018, the President Uhuru Kenyatta had alluded to the cost of increased bureaucratic and political representation as a reason to increase taxes.


And now different groups have started making noise about a potential referendum. Like sheep, politicians, and media, have now made the referendum top of the agenda as if it is the panacea for Kenya’s other problems.

Since 2002, Kenya has had seven national votes or an election every two or three years. The 2017 General Election had a 50-billion-shilling budget while the repeat presidential election had 15 billion shillings set aside for it.

Kenya is also set to have a national census in August 2019, which has been estimated will cost 19 billion shillings. The referendum is the top news item even as data shows that elections are historically bad for Kenya’s economy, slowing or stagnating investment activity.

There are other costly angles that this referendum talk will bring up. Today Parliament is scheduled to vote on moving the election date from August as set in the Constitution, to December, with a simple two-thirds majority.

Some gender activists argue that Parliament is itself unconstitutional as it continues to operate without implementing the two-thirds gender rule set in the Constitution. And some current proposals to fix the gender imbalance revolve around adding even more nomination slots and special seats to Parliament, while outside Parliament, other people want to scrap those seats altogether.

Parliament itself continues to draw funds - 35 billion shillings this year - from the national government for a Constituencies Development Fund which the courts have ruled is unconstitutional.

In this season of referendum talk, one theme is that ''whatever makes you look bad, makes me look good,'' so you have senators attacking the National Assembly, the National Assembly wanting to scrap the Senate, Parliament wanting to reduce the number of counties, and governors asking that more funds be disbursed to the counties on time.

Twitter: @bankelele