On 29th May 2020, Mzalendo Trust and Kenya Young Parliamentarians Association (KYPA) jointly held a Virtual Mock Parliament. Centring on their shared mandate on legislative processes and citizen engagement, the session was the first of its kind in Kenya bringing together youth from different parts of the country. The theme of the session, ‘Youth Participation during Covid-19” aimed at amplifying the voice of the youth during this unprecedented time of coronavirus.
The interactive session drew participants from ten different political parties, ensuring that the Virtual Parliament was actual replication of the diversity of Parliament itself. There was representation from Jubilee, ODM, KANU, Wiper, ANC, Ford-Kenya, NARC-Kenya, Maendeleo Chap Chap, Green Congress of Kenya and the United Green Movement. Like the Parliament again, the participants selected a Speaker who ably presided over the session.
Held on Zoom for three hours, the session consisted of Honourable Chairpersons from four different committees who tabled their reports with relevant recommendations relating to the Covid-19 crisis. Other Honourable Members chipped in and contributed to the recommendations, either by adding content or asking the tough questions and thereby enriching the overall reports. Overall the lively session was a window into the realities and ideas that sit among the youth of Kenya thus showcasing the potential lies within the young populace.
Through this initiative, Mzalendo and KYPA sought to increase knowledge and awareness of the electorate on the roles and responsibilities of Members of Parliament; to promote public participation of youth and inter-party youth dialogue in governance process; to encourage proactive and performing members of Parliament to continue championing and advocating for public interest and youth issues; to advocate for the facilitation of virtual Parliamentary sittings to ensure that Parliament’s role on representation and oversight is not abdicated; to deepen the linkage between civil society organizations, caucuses and Parliament; and to promote an open, transparent and accessible Parliament that enacts youth-friendly legislation towards the responsiveness of Covid-19.
One of the outcomes from the session was the greater need to provide systemic structures that support the youth and promote their representation in Parliament. There’s a need for increased efforts to keep creating and curating spaces like these to allow the youth to provide their views elaborately on issues of national concern and specifically that affect them. The session dispelled the misconception that youth aren’t interested in politics, governance and policy and instead made it apparent that the youth’s voice can no longer be ignored in decision making. The breadth of knowledge of issues and the mastery in articulation proved that it is up to the government to shelve archaic methods of engaging young people in policy and law-making and embrace creative and alternative ways to make public participation more accessible and inclusive.
Covid-19 has indeed exposed the harsh reality that physical meetings are not the ideal method to ensure public participation takes place. Mzalendo, having recognized this shortcoming and taking cognisance of the evolving digital world, created Dokeza, a Bill annotation platform that allows users to comment and provide views on Bills in Parliament that will be sent to Parliament as memoranda.
Kenyan youth form the bulk of internet users proving that Virtual Parliaments or forums such as these are the most ideal to target the youth. It is ironical that while youth in Kenya consist of almost 75% of the Kenyan population, they consist of only a paltry 6.5% in Kenya’s Parliament. Political parties should take this up and continually nominate youth to representative positions in Parliament and in the political party internal structures.
Parliament should stand encouraged that a Virtual Parliament can work as long as the right mechanisms are in place as has been evidenced in the United Kingdom and Brazil. Members of Parliament should continue serving the people of Kenya as the constitutional roles of legislation, oversight and representation do not stop; especially during this time of crisis when strong and clear-headed leadership is required. It should be remembered that the only curve we are trying to flatten is that of Coronavirus, not democracy, not constitutionalism nor the Rule of Law.
And to the young people of this country, continue pushing to take up your place in representation. If the virtual Parliament is anything to go by, your voice is most needed to pull this country out of the darkness and into prosperity. The potential to effect change already lies in you, you just need to harness it.