Article 35 of the 2010 Constitution clearly stipulates that Kenyan citizens have a right to access information. When article 35 (1) (a) is interpreted loudly, it may also requires government to ensure that information is not just accessible but also sufficiently understood by Kenyans. This is for purposes of empowering them and ultimately enriching our young democracy. Solid democracy is pegged on an informed citizenry.
The Parliamentarians ranking stories published by the Daily Nation earlier this week exposed serious gaps in civic education and also the opportunities available to various stakeholders to improve the exercise. First, the Parliamentarians perception survey revealed the public’s general lack of awareness of the duties of their representatives in Parliament. The reasons the public gave for ranking their Parliamentarians as capable or incapable provide useful pointers to the Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on the main gaps to be addressed in civic education.
Secondly, the framing of the Survey question “How would you rate the performance of your Senator/MP on a scale of 1 to 10? (Where 1 was extremely poor and 10 excellent)” was alarmist and sensational at best. The question was simplistic, assumptive and served to confuse an already confused populace. The Daily Nation failed to competently take up its agenda setting and educational role by not formulating a question which highlighted Parliamentarians work.
Thirdly, it is unfortunate that the survey question in some way perpetuated the myth on the work of a Kenya MP and trashed the facts. The job description of parliamentarians is short and clear, Kenyans pay them to legislate, oversight and represent them, all of which are carried in Parliament. By not putting parameters that really matter, the survey missed a chance to shape a productive national discussion on whether Kenyans are getting value for their money.
Fourthly, for Kenya to grow as a democracy, transparency and accountability, from all stakeholders in civic education must be keen with the details and not the buzz that little talk elicits. In the same case, the simplistic ranking of parliamentarians may have generated too much heat but Kenyans are still in an eclipse on issues concerning the role of parliamentarians.
Pollsters in Kenya have failed to understand demographic dynamics in our country and the background within which an opinion or lack of it is formed. The survey cheered mediocrity among the elected members and failed to recognize the diligence of some elected or even nominated members who have been active in the house. A sidebar story on the actual responsibilities of MPs and Senators would have gone a long way in civic education.
For instance Senators are supposed to be ranked based on their principal function of being the guardians of the counties. A quick check of the Hansard via Mzalendo.com will reveal that the Senator who ranked first never contributed anything on April 9th when the Senate was discussing the Division of Revenue Bill which has caused a stalemate between the Senate and the National Assembly. The same Hansard will reveal that the Senator who ranked last defended his county’s interests during the discussion.
In the end, perception ranking that is based on nothing, with no clear goals and objectives, may end up creating fertile grounds for personalized solutions rather than institutional based solutions. The media needs to be challenged to refrain from juicy headlines especially on an important issue like the competence of our elected leaders. In Kenya the media is the number one tool for civic education and therefore quality is of essence.