Parties can get us more women in Parliament

Allamanda Room at the Nairobi Serena was full by the time last Friday the smart people from the Institute of Economic Affairs finished making their presentation and launching their report on the cost of implementing the gender principle.

There was not enough time for the plenary session after the launch because when Kibra MP Kenneth Okoth gave the audience a chance to take a breather, they started taking tea and discussing the report and catching up.

It was with some evident joy that they did this because the bright guys at the IEA have done a great job analyzing what it would cost to implement the requirement in the Constitution that not more than two thirds of elective positions should be held by one gender.

According to their analysis, it would, in a worst case scenario, cost Kenya Sh1.5 billion more per year to cater for the additional women that would have to be nominated to Parliament to fill the current gender gap.

Broken down, this would be just Sh57.83 more per Kenyan.

Viewed from a regional context, that still wouldn’t be expensive because Kenya is the largest economy in the region and has the highest GDP per capita. “By both measures, it is the wealthiest nation in the region,” IEA said.

But with women forming a mere 21 per cent of our Parliament, Kenya is clearly lagging behind in terms of having both genders represented in elective positions. Burundi is at 35 per cent, Tanzania at 36 per cent, Uganda at 35 per cent and Rwanda leads the pack from the very front with 58 per cent.

All this appears to easily justify the position that it wouldn’t cost too much to have more MPs, most of them women in our current circumstances, and to support the suggestion by the Kenya Women Parliamentarians Association.

But from what I have observed in the Eleventh Parliament, which I cover on a daily basis, there is little actual justification in having an increased size of Parliament.

There is as yet no proof that a bigger Parliament does a better job than its predecessors, what with all the laws that have had to be challenged at the High Court within days of their enactment.

It starts right from the parking lot, which, when the Senate and the National Assembly are both in session, are crowded with the large SUVs every MP acquires as a matter of course.

Lounging about close or in each of these are the bodyguards and drivers every one of them has. Every MP also has a personal assistant.

One might argue that with the expansion of the facilities and the continuing acquisition of the buildings around Parliament, we shall in the future have enough space in Parliament Square to accommodate all the MPs we need.

But from the outside looking in on an almost daily basis, we have too many MPs doing too little.

That is not to say that this is attributable to the women. Men are equally guilty. A colleague likes to point out a man he knew as a good doctor in his home town who is no longer using his medical expertise and does not appear to spend his time in the House very well.

So far, there has not been any evidence that a larger House is a better House. I need not repeat here the perpetual complaint about the quality of debate in the House. Forget also the perception that the Senate does not appear to have much work on its hands.

But, judging by the few women who have stood out in the Tenth and Eleventh Parliament, the truth is the House could benefit from having more women in it.

What would happen if women are allowed to hang on the proposed changes to have more of the under-represented gender nominated to the House post-election would be a replication of the situation before the last elections where female candidates were told to contest for the positions reserved for women.

That way, even the voter is conditioned to think that because there are positions reserved for women or that they would be nominated to the House “for free” if there aren’t enough of them, they shouldn’t be elected.

What do we do instead?

Since parties are mainly influenced by the individual or group of individuals at the top, the system could be changed so that it forces the parties to prove that they have taken care of the interests of all special interest groups before they are allowed to participate in elections or to field a presidential candidate.

From what I have heard, some of the youthful nominated MPs in the House, and who I must admit have been doing a good job, were put in that position by the deliberate efforts of their party leaders.

In the face of the plain truth that either scrapping some seats, reducing the number of constituencies or increasing the number of MPs would be a hard sell and an unnecessary and loud political contest, changing the system from the party would seem like the best option.

It is easy and stress-free.


5 lessons from the Langata Road Primary School saga

1. Schools need to get title deeds

Sometime back, there was some beef between the Father-in-Charge at Kambaa Catholic Church and the management of Kanyore Primary School right next door. The man of God at the new parish hived off Githunguri wanted to fence off the church compound and create a little more space for the church. The beef arose because he wanted the church to have more space for a lawn and a shrine, which meant changing the orientation of the football pitch, moving the gate and adjusting the well-established entrance to the school. Some words were exchanged and the priest prevailed but the church was eventually locked out of the hall built in the school and had to build their own. The dispute was partly made easy to handle because the church and the school came into existence at the same time. We have seen with the Langata Road Primary School playground affair that when a school and a private citizen or company clash over land, the latter will likely be the loser.

2. Sometimes you need a brave man (even if a little teargas comes along)

Some of the blame for the kids getting teargassed on Monday is being directed at Boniface Mwangi, who is seen in one of the photographs, before the teargas was thrown, in the midst of school pupils and appearing to angrily lead them in pointing accusing fingers at one of the cops guarding the land. I don’t know whether Boniface was to blame for anything seeing as before he propelled himself into the affair, the kids had no playground and all the National Land Commission was doing was visiting the land as the politicians kept their way and the Twitterati twiddled their thumbs. Because of the Boniface-led protest and the police’s thoughtlessness, the children now have a playground. There is still a case in the courts filed by Airport View Ltd but with Major-General Nkaissery making the school his first port of call Tuesday morning, President Kenyatta making those statements against the land commission and the Lands ministry and all the media attention now fixated on the land, I doubt anyone else will ever want to occupy it. All because of a brave man and his few brave friends.

3. Swazuri and Ngilu (and probably everybody else) was sleeping on the job

I was walking up the bridge on the Reminisce side of Langata Road on December 22 last year when I became aware of a fast moving person bounding up the stairs on my right. Then the muzzle of a gun came into view and the man holding it quickly passed me. It was an Administration Policeman in full uniform. Police come in pairs so his colleague was behind me. As we descended the stairs on the other side, the two cops were already over the fence and walking to the shade of the trees next to the school, where the construction of the wall was going on. I wondered then what was going on. That was a month to Teargas Day. In between, my colleagues were attacked when they went to photograph the site, the National Land Commission officials have been to the place a few times, while the ministry and the politicians waited until the brave people had brought the wall down to make their declarations. Where were they all along?

4. What police reforms?

If the right to hold demonstrations is still in the Constitution, what would you say the cops were doing when they gassed those kids? Ok. They were pushing down the wall of what was then assumed to be private property. After they had done that, all manner of government officials emerged from the woodwork to declare that the school was the rightful owner of the school’s playground.
If that cop who threw the canisters would have told his commander that he couldn’t stomach throwing tear gas at a kid, would he have faced any punishment under the Force Standing Orders?

5. There is a beneficiary of all this walking awaaay in this town.

There is, in this urban centre somewhere, a man or a group of men, there might even be women involved, who presented the land for sale. They called the client to a room in the private members’ club on the top floor of a hotel, bought them a meal and a glass of wine, ordered an expensive double of one of those smoky whiskeys and then laid out the plan. With laser pointers they showed the person the plot, showed them the documents from Survey of Kenya, pulled out some maps and transparencies and told him what a good investment this is. What about the school next door, the man might have asked? No problem. A file was extracted and plans were shown once more. Look at these houses here. Before the owner built them, a claim was made but was withdrawn after they looked at these here plans. What about Nairobi West Prison? That belongs to the government and is well documented here. Once you fence the plot off and build it up, people will forget. Deal sealed. Money in the bank. Walk awaay.


There is an additional lesson re the top Jubilee politician constantly connected to the land: the internet is always awake.


The Anglo Leasing conundrum (that was)

Among the pile of documents any reporter writing about the current Anglo Leasing story, which is really not about Anglo Leasing but why let details get in the way of a good story, is the report of the Public Accounts Committee signed at the end with the seemingly endless signature that reads something like uuuuuuKenyatta.
George Kegoro says it was a wonderful report and because it is not often that George Kegoro attributes anything good to UK, let us believe him. It lays some good ground for the recommendation at the end that the contracts whose execution hadn’t started should be terminated and those that had started being executed ought to examined afresh to verify whether they were worth what Kenya would pay for them. In the meantime, it said, Kenya ought not to pay these chaps one more cent.
It was then that the well-documented arbitration and then litigation process started. These processes went from dusty Nairobi to cold and rainy London.
It is said, and I have seen no evidence to support this thesis, that as Kibaki was building Thika Road and the bypasses we like him so much for, some of these Anglo Leasing-type contractors were paid some Sh5.3 bn.
Kibaki is also well remembered because when his reluctanctly-procured coalition partner was recovering after emergency head surgery, he hit the road, gave journalists interviews (not the cliche’d wide-ranging ones but a smart-bomb one where he spoke about only the important stuff) and then urged us all to approve this thing, the Constitution…and thus created the Controller of Budget. This fastidious, straight-shooting, no-nonsense woman stopped Treasury quietly paying off First Mercantile Securities Corporation and Univeral Satspace, the two Anglo Leasing-type companies that come at us waving London Court Judgements.
Why do the cool and calm Henry Rotich and the quiet but firm Dr Kamau Thugge insist that it is important that we pay off these two buggers?
Kenya needs to sell a sovereign bond at the Irish Stock Exchange, where some Guinness-drinking rich guys will buy the bond and thus give us some $2 billion. We’ll take that, pay off some local banks some $600 million that they lent us, and use the rest to build roads, airports, hospitals and obviously pay off striking civil servant and the florists who supply bouquets to government offices.
What happens if we don’t pay seemed more dire. Our overburdened government would have to borrow from local banks to finance the gap in its Budget for next year, which means that the banks would drop that habit of looking up their clients’ phone numbers and their account flows and then calling to offer cheap loans.

Economists say that when banks start offering cheap loans, they are effectively shoving money down our pockets and making everybody rich, which means there is more money around and the economy can grow.