By Atieno Ndomo
From the onset, a disclaimer seems necessary since I was one of the 117 applicants who expressed interest to represent Kenya in the East African Legislative Assembly ( Eala). Although this commentary is subjective, it is intended as a deeper reflection on the just concluded Eala elections and not merely a case of sour grapes.
To say the nomination and election left a lot to be desired would be a gross understatement. Other than a few progressive strides (like the effort to craft a framework of rules to steer the nomination process and the explicit stipulation in regard to gender representation), overall, the exercise was constrained by myopia, parochial interests and political expediency-key problems of the country’s politics.
Although for the first time, the process was guided by rules adopted by the National Assembly, sadly, a critical review of the elections suggests that a lot more needs to be done to review those rules to assure a fair, merit-based and accountable process of nomination and election of Kenya’s representatives to the regional assembly.
The rules have to truly advance the principles and spirit of the East African Community (EAC) Treaty. They cannot merely be a superficial framework to selectively ‘tick-off-the box’ in compliance with the Treaty’s provisions.
The representation of the people and leadership has been fundamentally redefined by the Constitution to affirm principles including fairness, transparency and inclusion.
These values need to filter through to related processes including regional integration. Setting a lower bar would be counter-productive and illogical.
The tendency for a last minute push to beat the deadline for electing the country’s representatives to Arusha has to be reversed as it provides a convenient cloak that masks a process which short changes applicants, undermines fair competition in the selection process and circumvents a thorough consideration and vetting of nominees.
The role of the relevant parliamentary committee in vetting nominees needs to be strengthened. Presently, it amounts to no more than an exercise of rubberstamping the respective party nominees.
Greater attention has to be paid to the intra-party nomination. In the just concluded exercise, unsurprisingly, given the extent to which political parties remain undemocratic and unaccountable, the process was not transparent.
Also, the dearth of ideological depth was evident to the extent that ‘ethnic profiling’ of candidates trounced considerations of meritocracy. It was obvious that a narrow quest to manipulate the ‘ethnicity card’ was the overriding factor for some of the parties.
Fundamentally, there was a fallacy: Whereas the Eala seats were indeed opportunities to represent the nation, parties conveniently and narrowly interpreted their role viz the nomination of candidates as an opportunity to reward so-called party loyalists, at the expense of deserving candidates.