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Is Opposition shooting itself in the foot?

By Alexander Chagema | April 7th 2016

I would have missed the President’s ‘State of the Nation’ address from Parliament last week, but for the whistling. Two reasons informed this; having listened to the previous two speeches, I had an inkling the third would be an encore. Secondly, I had an office deadline to beat.

When the whistling started, the first unconscious thought I had was of football hooligans, but in the millisecond it takes to mentally file away information, the mind rejected that line of thought; there is no pitch in the vicinity.

I looked at the TV in time to see President Uhuru try hard to suppress a chuckle, like he was enjoying himself, before the camera moved on. Somehow, President Kenyatta’s unruffled demeanour effortlessly portrayed the ‘whistle-blowers’ as jejune. If their raucousness was meant to penetrate the President’s armour, it was a dismal failure. Time without number, the Opposition has berated Jubilee on lack of democracy yet went ahead to break a cardinal rule in the plethora presented by democracy; the freedom of expression and the right to be heard.

If there was to be a role reversal, and Jubilee became the hecklers, what type of society would we be building? Isn’t this telling the youth the only way to gain attention is through confrontation? It should not have been lost on the rowdy MPs that they were in the precincts of the National Assembly; a House guided by strict rules in specific situations.

The State of the Nation address is a constitutional requirement that is binding on the institution of the presidency. The drafters of the Constitution did not envision a contest between political parties driven by real or imaginary grievances.

This was intended to be a sober occasion on which to reflect on our successes and failures in the past year. It would have been bearable to stage a boycott rather than attempt to stop the President from addressing the nation.

The crudeness with which some Opposition MPs disrupted the President, the ugly scenes that followed days later at Muliro Gardens in Kakamega where Bungoma Senator Moses Wetang’ula had gone to launch his 2017 presidential bid last Saturday, speak of an Opposition that may not be the best alternative it has been proclaiming itself to be. In terms of bad temperament, Opposition MPs have proven they are worse than their notorious quarrelsome buddies in Government.

From a different perspective, when a Government hogs everything, it creates a feeling of impotency and combativeness within the Opposition, yet neutralising an opposition’s venom is something the Government can readily and easily muster.

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The unhealthy rivalry between Jubilee and Cord is reminiscent of South Africa where the ruling African National Congress and the Inkatha Freedom Party led by King Mangosuthu Buthelezi were in constant friction that resulted in the deaths of at least 15,000 people.

When he was to attend the World Economic Forum in Switzerland in 1997, President Mandela appointed Mr Buthelezi, the then coalition’s Minister for Home Affairs, acting President. While informing legislators of his decision, President Mandela said, “He is an able (Buthelezi) and experienced leader of our country. That was the consideration... If it will promote reconciliation we will all be happy. But the reason is that he is a highly competent and experienced leader.” The tension fizzled out.

I am not suggesting the same prescription for Kenya; the dynamics are different. All we can do is derive positive lessons from the South African experience. One even has to admire the calm in the South African parliament even as Mr Malema tears into President Jacob Zuma in a manner that would start a war in ours.

President Kenyatta called on Chief Justice Willy Mutunga to ensure the Judiciary did not cripple efforts to fight corruption through some of its rulings.

Similarly, he shifted blame to the governors for the country’s lacklustre development record; perhaps aiming to herd them away from calling for more allocations to counties, above the constitutional 15 per cent of the national budget. In my opinion, the National Assembly is the culprit, and that is where corrective surgery should start. Ours is a Parliament overflowing with ‘warriors’ who are largely clueless, on top of which it is bestowed with too much power; power it is ill equipped to handle gracefully.

In its power as the legislative authority, Parliament must craft laws that are able to handle the realities on the ground, rather than solely being besotted with ‘freedoms’ and ‘rights. The surest way to subvert justice is by hiding behind the ‘bill of rights’, and the culprits know it.

The grandstanding between the national and county governments over finances and devolving functions can be put to rest if Parliament plays its legislative role in a non-partisan manner.

It must clear the obfuscation in laws that don’t give clear demarcation lines in what roles and duties are to be played by constitutional offices.

The tragedy, however, is that the pretext to separation of powers between the Executive, Parliament and the Judiciary is a charade. The tyranny of numbers translates into the Legislature being an extension of the Executive; doing its bidding.

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