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Let’s re-examine the Constitution to catalyse our devolution dream

COMMENTARY
By MUTAHI KAGWE | July 12th 2015

It is not easy being a leader. Especially a leader in Kenya. If, as Shakespeare put it, “uneasy lies the head that wears [the] crown,” then in a country like Kenya where politics are guided by a new and untested Constitution, things can get particularly challenging.

I am no mechanic but I can tell you this much: If you assemble a car and insert in it parts from a multitude of manufacturers, it is bound to hiccup a bit. Overload it and then drive it up a steep hill and I guarantee you, it will cough up a good thick cloud of pollutants. I am writing this piece because I am a passenger in this vehicle – a bus belonging to the Kenya Parliament – and from my vantage point, it seems something is going amiss.

Devolution was to be a means to develop the country in a faster, efficient and more equitable manner where the wearer of the shoe felt relief through visible and tangible change.

Today, it remains the best means to develop Kenya while promoting the democratic, participatory and accountable exercise of power that includes minority and marginalised communities. We need to hasten it by finding a breakthrough to the conflict in the 11th Parliament.

It is well known that from the onset, there has been acrimony between the National Assembly and the Senate and that with few exceptions, the interaction between the two is characterised by suspicion, unwarranted competition and the pettiness of personal attacks.

Admittedly, while this is not unique to Kenya in that we are not the only State in which a bicameral system of Government or conflict feature, the manner in which we are conducting ourselves threatens the very essence of why we exist.

Because a majority of us love Kenya and want to leave footprints on the sands of national development. I share the concern of those fatigued by the wrangling within Parliament. Indeed, when the wrangling creates the perception that we are slowing down or worse, sabotaging development, there is reason to worry.

Yet, when I listen to our critics, I am reminded of one simple fact: that though the drafters of the Constitution did not spell out how to get along, they provided channels for mediation between the two houses when differences emerge.

Many of us agree that difference need not be discordant and that in as far as legislation is concerned, it is actually a healthy thing.

A variance in opinion is a call for dialogue; it triggers debate and when revolved around issue-based – not personal – differences, usually results in the creation of good legislation. Why can’t we be more like the estimated 40 per cent of the world’s population that lives under some form of devolution function?

Beyond mudslinging when faced with deadlocks, the democracies of the US, Canada, Malaysia, South Africa and even Nigeria fall back on the legal Constitution and the processes stipulated in it.

Here – even if there is a degree of self-interest – the mitigation of problems achieves win-win results. Our Parliament, for instance, boasts a multitude of lawyers who should have fought harder for the strengthening of the Judiciary budget because as members of the legal fraternity, they not only appreciate the need to enhance justice in Kenya, but as lawyers who might practice again, will end up being direct beneficiaries of an improved system. Had this caucus agitated harder, the national agenda would have won.

Fellow legislators, please understand that it is difficult for our critics – the citizens of Kenya – to understand our differences. In as far as they are concerned, their senator is a member of the constituency while their MP is a member of the county. 

They entrust both with the role of fighting for them and expect more of Parliament than supremacy wars that result in cutting noses to spite faces. As a member of the Senate and in the spirit of re-balancing the relationship between the houses, I will continue to agitate for a re-examination of the Constitution.

In harmony, we can enhance Parliament’s image, restore public trust and most importantly, catalyse devolution.

The writer is Nyeri County Senator

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