What kind of Chief Justice should Kenyans expect?

Posted by on 14th April 2021

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The Judiciary is the watchdog of the rule of law and access to justice in Kenya. Through its processes, disputes are resolved, alternative dispute resolutions are promoted and there is enforcement of Constitutionally protected rights. Chapter 10 of the Constitution of Kenya 2010 creates the Judiciary; together with aligning provisions on its independence, system and hierarchy of courts and the Judicial Service Commission.

These provisions particularly come to mind as the process of recruiting the Chief Justice is ongoing. With Chief Justice David Maraga’s retirement in January 2021, the Judicial Service Commission has begun the process of interviewing applicants for the topmost seat in the Judiciary. There are 10 applicants who have been shortlisted and whose interviews started taking place this week. These include: Hon. Juma Chitembwe, Prof. Kameri Mbote, Hon. Martha Koome, Hon. David Marete, Philip Murgor, Hon. Nduma Nderi, Hon. William Ouko, Senior Counsel Fred Ngatia, Prof. Moni Wekesa and Alice Yano.

Article 166 of the Constitution provides for the criteria for the appointment of the Chief Justice. This includes at least 15 years’ experience as a superior court judge or as a distinguished academic, judicial officer or legal practitioner. While the Chief Justice is formally appointed by the President, he/she is recommended by the Judicial Service Commission and is vetted by the National Assembly. This clearly outlines the separation of powers and the checks and balances that each arm has on the other. Despite this, the independence of the Judiciary cannot be overstated with its principal foundation in the Constitution.

Kenyans should expect a Chief Justice who is aligned to the principles encompassed in Chapter 6 of the Constitution on Leadership and Integrity. This should be a person who has a high moral character, integrity and impartiality. Any aspersions cast on the impartiality of the Chief Justice would further lower the public perception that the Judiciary is weak. This should be an individual who is able to promote public confidence in the Judiciary, entrench constitutionalism and entrench the principles of transparency and accountability.

It would be remiss to say that, in the recent past, the Judiciary has faced unique challenges that have hindered the effective implementation of its much-needed work. There have been concerns that the independence of the Judiciary has been undermined with judicial officers being complicit in ensuring that the courts are used a tool for political suppression. Secondly, a trend where court orders are not obeyed especially by members of the Executive, erodes the confidence of the authority from the sovereign people of Kenya that is delegated to the Judiciary. Thirdly, the Executive has been seen to force its hand in the affairs of the Judiciary; noted by many to be the silent retaliation for the Supreme Court’s decision to annul the 2017 Presidential election. This has been evident in two main ways. This is through budget cuts despite the need for resources and through the lack of appointment of 41 judges who had been approved by the JSC. Despite a court decision declaring that the President is constitutionally bound by the recommendation of the Judicial Service Commission, the judges are yet to be appointed leading to the closure of some court stations across the country.

All these, coupled with the never-ending complaints on case backlogs and unnecessary delays have lowered public trust and confidence in the institution. The situation has also been aggravated by the Covid-19 pandemic that temporarily halted operations, causing further delays and inaccessibility to much-needed justice.

A heavy plate is what awaits the new Chief Justice. While retired Chief Justice David Maraga promoted access to justice through the Sustaining Judiciary Transformation Agenda, there is still a lot to be done. This includes leveraging on technology to deliver justice while maintaining fair trials and protecting constitutional rights.  Further, judicial accountability of judicial officers at all levels will ensure that there are fair and well-reasoned judgments with proper complaint/appeal mechanisms. Additionally, there should be synchronous cooperation among the three arms of the government. This will ensure that the Judiciary receives the support it requires without compromising its independence.

Lastly, with the Building Bridges Initiative taking centre-stage in the coming months, the Judiciary’s role will be fundamental in determining the various constitutional issues that arise from the political process. In this, the leadership of a strong-willed Chief Justice will be necessary to ensure that the will of the people is heard and articulated well.

As Kenyans, we hope that the best candidate succeeds to guide the judicial system accordingly. In closing, we reiterate the words of John Rawls, ‘laws and institutions no matter how efficient and well-arranged must be reformed or abolished if they are unjust.’ Key reforms should take place to reduce any unjust outcomes perceived by litigants as they interact with the Judiciary at any level.

Strategic Plan 2021-2025: The New Dawn

Posted by on 6th April 2021

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On 31st March, 2021, Mzalendo Trust launched its five-year Strategic Plan, intended to inform our work for the next five years until 2025. The Plan informs and is informed by a totality of the ‘geography of action’ ranging for the obtaining political, economic and social ecosystems. Firstly, it is largely guided by the ecosystem as shaped by the Constitution of Kenya, 2010. As such, it identifies with three of the key guiding values and principles of governance: Openness, inclusion and accountability.

Openness seeks to secure processes that are accessible to the public, both in Parliament and county assemblies as provided for in Articles 118 and 196 of the COK, 2010. The former provides that “Parliament shall (a) conduct its business in an open manner, and its sittings and those of its committees shall be in public; and (b) facilitate public participation and involve­ment in the legislative and other business of Parliament and its committees” (Art. 118 (1)) The latter, focussing on county assemblies, provides that any “County Assembly shall (a) conduct its business in an open manner and hold its sittings and those of its committees in public; (b) facilitate public participation and involvement in the legislative and other business of the Assembly and its commit­tees.” (Art. 196 (1))”

Inclusion focusses on the realization of a governance ecosystem that incorporates all segments as reflected in the society. Particularly, it strives to have the hitherto marginalized segments rightly represented in governance: Women, youth, persons with disability, marginalized and minority communities. Accountability ties institutional responsibility to public wishes. It rightly acknowledges that sovereign power ultimately belongs to the people, and that only according to their wishes can it be exercised.

The three values and principles thus inform Mzalendo’s new mission: ‘promotes open, inclusive, and accountable Parliaments in Kenya and Africa.’

Consistent with the COK, 2010, the Plan identifies sub-national legislatures (county assemblies) as areas of interest. It thus seeks to ‘devolve’ focus to cover the county assemblies in addition to Parliament at the national level.

In addition to the COK, 2010, ongoing conversations and developments have shaped the Plan as well. The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and its implications have informed the design of Mzalendo’s engagement. Particularly, attention is on how to ensure that the threat to civic space is neutered. More importantly, it seeks to explore innovative ways to ensure that the unprecedented disruption occasioned by the pandemic does not ground public’s involvement in the governance processes. Public participation, a running theme throughout the Constitution, must be optimally sustained. Civic tech is therefore a key plank in the conversation around the pandemic.

The Plan intends to further entrench Mzalendo’s role in the Open Government Partnership (OGP) and Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) spaces, which Mzalendo has secured an active role in. Regarding OGP, Mzalendo is currently the civil society lead on the development and implementation of Kenya’s National Action Plan IV (NAP IV), 2020-2022.

The Plan readily acknowledges the place of partnerships in enhancing the chances of realizing stated institutional objectives. Consequently, it requires broadening of partners’ base to include diverse actors, stakeholders and duty bearers. Those identified include political parties, oversight bodies, civil society organizations, media and citizens. Further, it readily identifies the place of international partners in championing the cause.

Noticeably, Mzalendo seeks to make a strategic shift, angling toward being a bolder organization. It intends to engage in vigorously in issues of public interest but which have the potential to be defined as ‘controversial’. We intend to engage in more, beyond the traditional innocuous and less controversial spaces. One such space is the fight against corruption, one which almost always invites controversy and an elevated sense of risk to involved actors.

With the launch of the Plan, which effectively ushered in the more defining implementation phase, Mzalendo looks forward to working with all actors in the space for a more open, inclusive and accountable governance system.

 

 

Covid-19 in Kenya: Reflecting on the Last Twelve Months

Posted by on 30th March 2021

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President Uhuru Kenyatta issued the second public order of 2021 on Friday, March 26th  imposing new restrictions in the wake of the third wave of Covid-19 that is currently ravaging the country. In his fifteenth address on the Coronavirus pandemic, the President ordered a lockdown on five counties; Nairobi, Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado and Nakuru which he termed as the ‘zoned area’ that have attributed to 70% of the positive cases reported in the country.

He further adjusted the curfew hours for the zoned area to now begin at 8pm while the rest of the country still operates with the 10pm curfew. To manage the rising cases of Covid-19 in the country, the president also directed that food establishments operate on take-away basis, banned gatherings and traveling in and out of the zoned area.

Coincidentally, his directives come exactly one year since his first address on the pandemic. The country at the time had to adjust to a 7pm nationwide curfew, wearing of face masks and hand-washing upon entry into establishments. In the process of adjusting to this new way of life, human rights violations were reported as police used brute force in enforcing these new rules. On reflecting on the last 12 months of the country’s fight against Covid-19, one is left wondering whether we have made progress in restoring normalcy in the country or in fact, took many steps back.

During his first address, the President not only issued safety protocols to be observed by Kenyans but also gave tax reliefs to cushion economically vulnerable Kenyans. This move was much welcome as thousands of Kenyans had been reported to have lost their source of income following the restrictions imposed locally and globally. The tax reliefs would later be reversed by Parliament that cited the need to cater to the revenue shortfalls. Tax reliefs were, however, not provided this time around with many Kenyans online, particularly those in the zoned area, expressing concerns over their ability to put food on the table following the new restrictions.

Unlike last year when the state’s priority was acquiring PPEs for healthcare workers, the state is presently mainly focused on acquiring vaccine doses for its population. Both instances have brought to the fore matters of allocation of funds, procurement of the items and oversight of the spending. In the midst of the fight against the pandemic this past year, a scandal brewed as Kemsa, the agency tasked with acquiring medical supplies, could not account for Sh 43 billion. The reality for the country is that the fight isn’t just against the pandemic but also the corruption that is threatening the wellbeing and lives of Kenyans.

Several Parliamentary committee investigations later and not one person has been charged for the looting that took place in the midst of a pandemic. The concerns raised by whistleblowers within the media and civil society remain valid as the country sets out to procure more vaccine doses for Wanjiku. Will the government guarantee transparency and accountability this time around?

Parliament proposed the altering of the calendar for their sittings to reduce the risk posed by the third wave of Covid-19. Coincidentally the legislature also went on recess a time like this last year causing legislators to receive a lot of criticism. But with the incorporation of virtual sittings for both plenary and committee, it would be safe to assume that Parliamentary business will carry on effectively. Once again, attention will shift to the August House to see whether Wanjiku’s representatives will propose any cushioning measures and carry out their oversight mandate as the country actively undertakes vaccination for Covid-19.

While a post-Covid future currently remains bleak, it would be key for leaders to reflect on the past year and pick lessons to have better informed decisions even as the country works towards a recovery plan.

Pan-African Parliament (PAP) launces PAP Day

Posted by on 23rd March 2021

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The Pan-African Parliament (PAP) launched its official “PAP Day” which is set to be commemorated every year on the 18th of March. The PAP Day celebrates the inauguration of the first Parliament of the Pan-African Parliament on 18th March 2004, in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.
The occasion was marked by a virtual celebration to reflect on the journey of the institution 17 years after it was inaugurated. The Pan-African Parliament Day was officially launched by Hon. Chief Fortune Charumbira, Acting President of the Pan-African Parliament, who indicated the importance of reflecting on the journey of the Pan-African Parliament as it strikes conversation on the vision and purpose of the institution, which can be traced directly to the Pan-African ideals of cooperation and unity among African states.
The main objectives of this maiden annual celebration were to reflect on the 17-year PAP journey since its inauguration, position PAP as a Parliament for all and a representation of people of Africa, empower stakeholders with knowledge on the Pan-African Parliament and its function as a legislative organ of the African Union and galvanize people on the need to ratify the Malabo Protocol and encourage actions aimed at engaging leaders in speeding up this process.
The launch of the PAP Day comes just months after African Parliamentary Monitoring Organizations (PMOs) came together to establish the African Parliamentary Press Network (APPN) that seeks to create more awareness and understanding of the Pan-African Parliament’s mandate, amplify its work through member states and PMOs with the aim of enhancing public participation by member states at the regional body. During the launch of the PAP Day, the network’s members made their commitment to continuously work to bridge the gap between PAP and member states’ Parliaments to see to it that the PAP protocols that member states are signatories to, are ratified and implemented.
In his remarks, Hon. Charumbira mentioned that declaring a dedicated “PAP Day” will serve as a reminder to decision-makers around the continent to fulfill their commitment by ratifying the Malabo Protocol and strengthen the powers and functions of the Pan-African Parliament.
Other dignitaries that also attended the launch were the Speakers of the ECOWAS Parliament and the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA), Hon. Sidie Mohamed Tunis and Hon. Martin Ngoga, respectively, who reiterated the importance of amplification of African voices to achieving a bright future for the region through sound legislation and implementation of laws. Mr Ngoga emphasized on the importance of partnership between PAP and EALA for coordinated access to vaccines against Covid-19 and the post-Covid recovery plans as a common Africa continental response to the pandemic. This call proves timely especially given the rising cases of infections in Kenya and the African continent and the emergence of new variants of the virus.
Representing the Civil Society, Prof. Frans Viljoen, Director of Center for Human Rights described the day as” a great milestone for the continent.” He also commended Africans for their efforts in preserving the Pan-African Parliament despite the numerous challenges it has had to face in the last 17 years. He added that, the Pan-African Parliament being taken down to grassroots levels is exciting for the civil society as they to work with institutions that are people driven and promote Pan-Africaniism.
The launch of the PAP day sets the stage for increased collaborations between the Pan-African Parliament with other regional Parliaments such as EALA and ECOWAS Parliament, between Parliaments from member states and between the regional Parliaments and African PMOs to best represent and address Africa’s unique needs.

The Gendered Face of the Pandemic

Posted by on 16th March 2021

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During the week of the International Women’s Day, Mzalendo Trust released a report on the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women dubbed “The Gendered Face of Covid-19”. The study set out to examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women livelihood, analyze whether changes in the livelihood exacerbated gender-based violence, including sextortion and finally examine the impact of Covid-19 related corruption on women’s access to mental health, reproductive and general health services.
For context, the study cast the relationship between Covid-19 related corruption and its implication on women within the broader context of the pathways of the socio-economic impact of the pandemic. The first channel that the impact of the pandemic is observed is through the direct effects of the sickness brought about by Covid-19, which arises when the bread winner becomes ill. This leads to an overwhelmed health sector and manifestation of corruption in terms of failure to prudently manage allocated resources causing shortage of medical supplies, ventilators and personal protective equipment (PPEs) for medical staff. In this instance, Covid-19 related corruption would have a multiplier effect on the access to healthcare services because financial resources are diverted for personal gains.
The second channel is the indirect effects of Covid-19 occasioned by “aversion behavior” emanating from the fear of catching the virus, which in turn leads to a fear of association with others and reduced labour force participation, closure of places of employment, disruption of transportation and restriction of entry of citizens from afflicted countries. This in turn affected the general economic output of the country which has been felt all the way to the household level.
Other ways in which the pandemic impacted women was that there was increased women’s childcare responsibilities and expectation to do the same owing to the closure of learning institutions in response to the pandemic. The resultant effect of this is that women’s participation in work outside the home was likely to fall. Additionally, healthcare resources normally dedicated to reproductive health were directed towards emergency response bringing the potential risk of higher rates of maternal and infant complications and mortality.
At the time of the study, 32% of the respondents felt that Covid-19 related corruption had a direct and extreme effect on their livelihood while another 49% felt it had an average effect on their livelihood. On the question of the financial position of the respondents in the wake of the pandemic, 45% noted a change in lifestyle. This particular change was a direct effect of either a loss of employment or pay cuts that then forced the respondents to make huge adjustments in their household, whether dietary, location of residence etc. to be able to make ends meet. While some of these changes could have been addressed with the stimulus packages being offered by the government, the lack of transparency and awareness on the stimulus packages led to some of the respondents feeling left out and/or missing out on the packages that could have offered financial relief.
63% of the respondents felt that economic hardship and loss of employment put them at greater risk of gender-based violence. Within the first three months of the pandemic, there was a significant rise in cases of domestic violence inflicted on women. This has been attributed to their loss of economic power and financial dependence on their partners. Experts further linked this to the rise in cases of stress, depression among their partners who then take it out on their wives. With minimal movement from their homes, majority of the victims felt they could not report the cases to local enforcement because they had no where to seek help from.
The findings of the report revealed that the Covid-19 related corruption only exacerbated other forms of corruption that were already prevalent and further weakened service systems. The diverted monies meant to cater to hospitals and the health care system at both national and county level meant that hospitals could not broaden their capacity to treat patients with general illnesses and Covid-19 hence turning away some patients who were met with overstretched hospitals and medics.
This study is basically a call to the powers that be to quickly intervene and bring corruption to a stop but more importantly to bring the responsible persons to justice and recover the stolen public funds. The fact remains that corruption, of any kind, steals from the potential of a state and her people and stunts the growth of the country.

Arrival of the Covid-19 Vaccine calls for Robust Oversight

Posted by on 3rd March 2021

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Kenya received a consignment of 1.02 million units of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine on Tuesday night marking a significant step for Kenya in the fight against Covid-19 almost a year after the first positive case was confirmed in the country. The vaccine is meant to significantly boost the fight against the deadly virus that has infected over 107,000 and killed over 1800 Kenyans.

According to the Ministry of Health, frontline workers such as medics, police and teachers will be the first to receive the vaccine. Next in line will be individuals with underlying conditions that make them vulnerable to coronavirus. This approach borrows from countries like the United Kingdom that prioritized frontline workers and the vulnerable elderly in the first phase of the roll out of the vaccine, a strategy being employed by the Ministry too, which gave assurance that the rest of the population will be covered in subsequent batches.

While this is a step in the direction, there have been concerns from various quarters over the distribution, management and accountability of the vaccine roll out in the country. These concerns have been vocalized by members of the civil society, the public in the online sphere and even some legislators who worry that corruption threatens the equitable distribution of these vaccines and whether the funds involved in their acquisition and distribution will be well accounted for.

As it stands right now, Parliament, through its committees has held tens of meetings with officials from the Kenya Medical Supplies Authority (Kemsa) and the Ministry of Health over the irregular procurement of Personal Protective Equipment (PPEs) for health care workers that were worth Ksh 7.8 billion. To this day, not a single person has been charged for the crime as new revelations, each day, proving how deep corruption ran in this process. With the public trust having been eroded over time, who’s to expect a different outcome with the handling of the Covid-19 vaccine this time around?

Another issue that also came out when the government sought to acquire PPEs, was the initial poor coordination between national government and county governments. The lack of proper coordination between the ministry and counties resulted in delayed and unequal distribution of the PPEs leading to the infection and deaths of a significant number of health care workers. In addition to this, some counties identified that they were growing hotspots of the virus when it was rather too late to contain it. The two levels of government are, therefore, being called upon to change the narrative by finding a fair and well-coordinated distribution mechanism that can be accounted for to the very last detail. Furthermore, counties will need to enhance their contact tracing techniques to ensure Kenyans receive the two doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca required to ensure the vaccination is done conclusively.

It has also been alleged that there is a possibility of the political elite being included in the first priority group to receive the vaccine. Whether authenticated or not, these fears cannot be downplayed if one is to use the manner in which testing of the virus was being done initially as a benchmark. The prices of the tests were so steep that it deterred a good number of Kenyans from easily accessing the services. The resultant effect was that majority asymptomatic Kenyans could not take the test hence spreading the virus even more. The government should therefore ensure that they roll out the vaccine in the adherence to their priority list to avoid foul play.

Finally, on the matter of accountability, the government ought to ensure full transparency in the process. Oversight bodies should remain vigilant to ensure that every dose can be accounted for. Any foul play tolerated at this point, literally threatens the wellbeing and lives of Kenyans and as such, should be fought at all costs.

 

Citizens Should Remain Steadfast in Holding Leaders to Account

Posted by on 22nd February 2021

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Mzalendo Trust and Transparency International-Kenya (TI-Kenya) jointly sponsored the Machakos Senatorial Debate that was moderated and aired on Musyii FM’s morning show on Friday 19th 2021. This comes after the seat was declared vacant following the untimely demise of first-time Senator Boniface Kabaka on 11th December 2020. Nine candidates attended and participated in the debate with only one – UDA candidate Urbanus Muthama alias Ngengele – skipping the debate.

The debate was aimed at enhancing social accountability among voters, in this case of Machakos County. The motivation behind this initiative was pegged on a research released by Mzalendo Trust dubbed Beyond the Ballot: An analysis of citizens’ perception of the roles of public and state officers” that sought to gauge citizen’s understanding of the respective mandates of the various elective positions in Kenya, post the 2010 Constitution.

The findings revealed that there was a great mismatch between the mandate of these public officers and citizen’s expectations. A matter that has come in to play during the campaign period when aspirants make unrealistic promises that aren’t within the scope of their mandate. To this end, the participants of the Friday debate were put to task to articulate the issues of Machakos residents and give possible approaches through the office of the Senate to address them.

Pending land cases in Machakos County became a matter of interest during the debate with majority of the candidates pledging to specifically address the tussle over the East Africa Portland Cement Land at Athi River and the KBC Malaa Land in Kangundo. In addition to these, the candidates stressed on the need to apply their skills and knowledge to oversight and hold the Machakos County Executive to account with regards to spending and managing County Funds. Furthermore, the candidates also spoke about promoting inclusion of special interest groups in the decision-making process at both county and national level.

The importance of such debates cannot be stressed enough. Unfortunately, a huge portion of the electorate are still of the belief that their choices are limited to the ballot, which is not the case. The process of holding leaders is continuous and the campaign stage is a great place to begin with. With the help of media such as Musyii FM, the public is able to question the attainability of manifestos fronted by candidates. At this stage, the populace can weed out non-serious candidates based on whether or not they speak to mwananchi’s needs.

Once a candidate is voted into office, the citizenry can then evaluate and the score the performance of their representative against the manifestos and their constitutionally outlined roles. This not only compels political parties to front a candidate that speaks to their values and vision. When candidates own their parties’ ideals and vision, then they can proceed to propose legislative interventions.

Failure by political parties to immerse their members in their vision leads is what leads to the poor delivery of these manifestos, this is one of the challenges highlighted in the report we commissioned last year dubbed “From Promise to Implementation – A Review of the 2017 Political Party Manifestos”. It is our hope that such initiatives will translate to an informed voting process that is slated for March 18th 2021.

Good on Parliament to Reject the Public Order Bill

Posted by on 16th February 2021

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On February 11th 2021, the National Assembly shot down the Public Order Bill, 2019 that was sponsored by Ruiru Member of Parliament, Hon Simon King’ara. The proposal sought to amend the Public Order Act to make a provision for organizers of public meetings or public procession leading to loss of property, life or earnings to take responsibility for the loss and compensate the affected persons.

While moving that the bill be read a second time, Hon. King’ara informed the house that the government incurred a loss of Ksh 700 billion during the 2017 post-election demonstrations, therefore, urging his fellow legislators to pass the bill to restore sanity even as members of the public exercise their right to picket as provided for in Article 37 of the Constitution. On the other hand, the seconder of the bill, Nominated Members – Hon. David Ole Sankok, highlighted the plight of persons living with disability (PWDs) during demos as he tried convincing the house to curb the chaotic protests that are especially witnessed after a hotly contested election as was the case in 2007, 2013 and 2017.

This alone, however, could not convince their colleagues to pass the law that threatened to claw-back on the gains made on the civic and human rights of Kenyans. To ask that organizers shoulder the burden of ensuring no damages are caused during demos would present a loophole that rival groups can use and abuse. Take for instance the recent claims made by former Nairobi Governor Mike Sonko about certain groups within his party posing as NASA protesters and in turn causing damage. Had this law existed then, innocent NASA protesters would have unfortunately been victimized for a crime they had not committed.

Secondly, the mandate to protect property and life is one that sits with the Kenyan Police not organizers of demos. This bill brought in an element of fear that would see Kenyans shy away from heading to the streets whenever they want to air their grievances despite the existence of a robust law that encourages freedom of speech.

Furthermore, the sentiments shared by the mover and seconder gave the impression that the law was politically motivated and targeted a particular political affiliation. Lawmakers should refrain from making laws that are only self-serving and seek to settle political scores. Minority Leader, Hon. John Mbadi warned against such moves and urged members to think of the future as law-making is done for posterity and not because one sits a point of great advantage in the political space at any given moment.

Considering that we are about to head into the campaign and subsequently, the election period, legislators should exercise caution in proposing laws that would come back and bite them. A law that violates the rights of one Kenyan threatens to violate the rights of another regardless of status, gender, age, race and political grouping. The civic society is calling on politicians to exercise wisdom in serving Kenyans and to be the leading defenders of the Constitution.

Legislative Agenda for 2021 Already Cut Out

Posted by on 10th February 2021

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Parliament is set to resume regular sittings of the First Part of the Fifth Session this Tuesday. With several items on the Priority Agenda already released, it seems that Parliamentarians have a full plate this session.

In the previous year, Parliament was heavily engaged with various issues, the most prominent being the pandemic. It is quite laudable that Parliament was able to leverage on technology during the onset of the pandemic in the country and was able to hold Committee sessions initially before moving to a hybrid model that encompassed both the members in Parliament chambers and those following the sessions virtually. The amendments to the Standing Orders showed the commitment to provide legislative direction and leadership during the pandemic despite the stringent guidelines on social distancing.

A good example is the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Covid- 19 Situation in Kenya that was established on 31st March 2020 with the mandate to oversight actions taken by the national and county governments in addressing the spread and effects of Covid-19 in the country. Through virtual means, the Committee was able to engage with various stakeholders across the board on health matters and subsequently tabling reports relating to the Pandemic Response and Management Bill, 2020. The Health Committees of both Houses also took advantage of virtual forums hold their sittings.

Going forward, 2021 appears to be promising with numerous Bills on the floor on the House as upcoming business. The Public Participation Bill seeks to provide parameters on public participation and define obligations of State Officers and public offices in conducting public participation. The courts have also understated the importance of public participation and there have been instances decisions where public body decisions have been overturned due to lack of public participation. However, there are several challenges that public participation has faced in the past year. Firstly, there is a concern that the timelines provided are short and do not offer the public adequate time to analyse the legislative proposals in depth and provide sound Memoranda. Secondly, there appears to be a feeling that where public participation is carried out, it is carried out to fulfil an obligation or to ‘check a box.’ Lastly, there are still issues surrounding accessibility and comprehensibility of legislative information and how to provide their voice.

Mzalendo attempts to fill in this gap through Dokeza that provides an online platform for citizens and corporate entities to track the legislative process in both the National Assembly and the Senate, in a modern and accessible manner. Kenya has a reputation as one of Africa’s most wired nations with high internet subscription and low internet prices. This is therefore an opportunity for citizens to leverage on Dokeza to comment on Bills tabled in Parliament for eventual forwarding to Parliament.

Another area of focus this session is the inclusion of youth and women. An example of a youth-centric Bill is the Higher Education Loans Board (Amendment) Bill, sponsored by nominated MP, Gideon Keter, that seeks to waive the imposition of interest on the principal amount of a loan advanced to the youth and person with disabilities until such time as they have secured their first employment. For women,  the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill, 2019 proposes to amend Article 89 so as to empower the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) to designate adjacent constituencies and wards for the election of women to Parliament and county assemblies.

Noting our growing reliance on technology, there are a few legislative proposals touching on ICT that require concerted stakeholder efforts and attention to ensure that certain rights are not curtailed. These include the Kenya Information and Communications (Amendment) Bill, 2019 and the Information Communication Technology Practitioners Bill, 2020.

With only about a year left, what legacy does the 12th Parliament intend to leave behind? Parliament needs to protect the shrinking civic space by implementing the PBO Act. In the wake of the calls for a law change, the 12th house should ensure passage and enactment of the Public Participation to guarantee enhance and inclusive public participation of all Kenyans, especially those among special interest groups. Seeing that President Uhuru Kenyatta has in the past two years made efforts to address the state of mental health in Kenya, National Assembly should consider and fast-track the Mental Health Bill that was already passed by the Senate.

Finally and most importantly, legislators should mind their utterances in public spaces to avoid stirring up chaos as it threatens to cause death and destruction as we’ve seen in previous years. We hope that in their undertakings, Parliamentarians will be guided by the fact that the interests of Kenyans take priority before anything else.

Reverend Wainaina’s Civic Education Moment is Timely

Posted by on 27th January 2021

Categories: Uncategorised

Reverend Sammy Wainaina has caused quite a buzz since delivering his Sunday sermon that spoke to current political affairs in the country. A move that has been termed bold and refreshing considering the church’s tainted reputation in recent times as being complacent in the conversation on bad governance.

While he is lauded as brave for speaking truth to power, some Kenyans are of the view that the church should stay out of the business of politics. But how can an institution with so much reach and influence be blind to something that has direct and serious implications on the day-to-day lives of its congregation? The church has a unique and integral role in shaping politics in Kenya and the world over, whether it’s by action, inaction or simple complacency. Unbeknownst to Rev Wainaina, he may have reignited the conversation on civic education in such religious gatherings, something that has been minimal in recent times.

Globally, the church has played a key role in nations’ politics. As it was witnessed in the recently concluded American elections, popular evangelists came out to show their support to former President Donald Trump. While such bold support of a rather controversial leader is not openly seen in our context, in the name of neutrality, churches in Kenya have offered a platform for politicians to sell their agenda. Politicians have previously taken to pulpits to attack their rivals’ and used the church as a means to display their “philanthropy” through generous donations.

Though he hasn’t been the first, Rev. Wainaina went ahead to ban any politicians from speaking in the church he leads. Such a move is not only wise but necessary considering that the nation is heading into what’s expected to be a highly contested election period. The reverend’s civic education moment is indeed rare in recent times though not unique in the history of Kenyan politics.

In the 1980s and 90s, one Reverend Timothy Njoya was known for being one of the church leaders who publicly spoke and protested against the autocracy and brutality of the then President Daniel arap Moi. Reverend Njoya used his sermons to call for the reintroduction of multiparty democracy and strongly defended the freedom of expression and association as enshrined in the old Constitution. He endured several arrests and faced condemnation from the church leadership. He is also remembered for being one of the people that led the Saba Saba multiparty demonstrations on July 7th 1990 that forced the repressive Moi regime to allow the re-introduction of multi-party state.

Indeed, the church’s role cannot be understated especially when the country is headed into an election year. It is not enough to preach the gospel of forgiveness and moving on from the past. In fact, such teachings cannot be held in isolation while neglecting the aspect of accountability. Keeping in mind Kenya’s volatile election history, it is necessary for religious leaders to intervene and objectively educate their masses on their rights as enshrined in the Constitution.

It will be remembered that Jesus Christ drove out traders who turned the church into a marketplace, exchanging money for cattle, sheep and doves. How different then is the modern-day church that gives audience to politicians who desecrate the pulpit in exchange for their generous donations? The time has come for the church and people of all other faiths to speak truth to power.