On a (suprisingly) inspiring visit to Parliament…and why you should try it.

Posted by on 29th October 2010

Categories:   Citizen Engagement MP Participation News Vox Pop

BY MZALENDO CONTRIBUTOR – Moreen Majiwa @moreenmaj

Earlier this week I had the pleasure of visiting our National Assembly. I am ashamed to admit that the last time I did this was as part of a mandatory primary school visit.  That was so long ago I can’t recall the details. Excited about my impending parliamentary visit I told a few of my friends about it.  My excitement was met with awkward silences followed by blank stares and the inevitable, “Why don’t you just watch the proceedings on KBC, besides how are you going to get in?”

Under this steady attack I found myself, an only one-time visitor to our National Assembly becoming its staunchest defender and activist-in-chief for citizen visits to parliament. It appears my peers are trapped in a cycle of political apathy and cynicism.  Some have given up the good fight as it were and are simply getting on with it.  Others complain about everything under the sun from traffic to
poor leadership, lament about the uselessness of making demands to our government and then get on with it.

As was pointed out severally KBC does stream parliamentary proceedings in real-time, which is a huge improvement over previous years where the Hansard and newspapers were pretty much the only way for members of the public to glean what was going on in Parliament.  In addition, thanks to technology, we can keep up with the latest news through online newspapers, blogs, facebook and twitter.   So the idea of visiting Parliament in person seems pretty redundant.

The problem with accessing the goings on in the Parliment through different forms of media is that you only see, read or hear what is presented to you. The content is shot, cut, packaged and presented to us.  A live in-person visit has a different quality there is an energy that is almost palpable.  You get to see the
whole show uncensored version of the good, the bad and the ugly.

So once I decided to visit Parliament, I realized that I had no idea whether I could show up or needed something special to get in.  After a few calls I found out that I would need a pass to get in, and this pass is usually organized by a sitting MP. Going to the gate and trying my luck with the security officers, had little
appeal, and since I didn’t know any MPs personally I sent out  e-mails to my contacts who I hoped would help me connect to someone who could assist with a pass.   I got lucky and got a pass organized, but couldn’t help wondering whether the process of attending a session couldn’t be a bit more straight forward (apparently you can just show up but your ability to get in depends on the security personnel you encounter that day).

I arrived at the gates of parliament precisely at 9:00 am only to find that the session did not start till 2.30 pm (note to self-check out www.bunge.co.ke to find out the parliamentary timetable next time).

I had low expectations mainly due to the poor portrayal of our leaders in the media.  Instead, I was pleasantly surprised to encounter such lively debate (although the fact that it was the Wetangula report being discussed might have contributed to some of the energy). I got see that some  MPs
really did fight the corner of their constituents valiantly, and wondered whether the media couldn’t do a better job of not just focusing on the negative aspects of MPs but also showcasing those who do work and the fact that a lot of other business is dealt with in parliament.

For those whose expectations of our parliamentarians are at an all time low, it may be time to stop being so pessimistic, to take a visit to parliament; it may inspire you to increase your expectations and make a demand or two of our leaders while you’re at it.