MPs race to save 26 constituencies facing the axe in boundaries audit

Panicky Members of Parliament are now scrambling to prevent the scrapping of some 26 constituencies ahead of the boundaries review by the electoral body.

According to the boundaries delimitation criteria to be implemented by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC), the units do not meet the constituencies population quota threshold of 164,015 that is premised on the 2019 census numbers. The population quota is the figure obtained after dividing Kenya’s 2019 population of 47,564,296 by the number of constituencies which stand at 290.

And with the looming boundaries’ delimitation exercise that was constitutionally supposed to have been concluded by March 2024, the constituencies face the axe. The lack of a properly constituted electoral body has, however, delayed this exercise.

The targeted constituencies are Othaya, Ndaragwa, Budalang’i, Vihiga, Voi, Wundanyi, Mwatate, Galole, Bura, Isiolo South, Samburu East, Laisamis, North Horr, Saku, Kilome, Mukurweini, Mbeere North and Mathioya.

Others are Kangema, Marakwet East, Keiyo North, Tetu, Mogotio, Lamu East, Lamu West and Mvita.

Article 189 of the Constitution dictates that boundaries are such that the number of inhabitants in a constituency is as nearly as possible equal to the population quota. The same article further mandates IEBC to merge constituencies or propose new ones as well as increase the number of wards from the current 1,450  as long as the total number of constituencies is maintained at 290.

The Constitution requires the polls agency to review names and boundaries of electoral areas at intervals of not less than eight years and not more than 12 years. The review is necessitated by the periodic population growth and is aimed at ensuring there is equitable distribution of resources ranging from constituency development funds to government facilities.

IEBC last reviewed electoral boundaries in March 2012 where, interestingly, the same 26 counties were found not to have met the then population quota of 133,138. Their retention was, however, occasioned by protection by Parliament by way of political interventions.

And now, Thika Town MP Alice Ng’ang’a has introduced a legislative proposal in the National Assembly to amend Article 89 of the Constitution to protect 26 Constituencies that were protected in the first review, even after failing to meet the population quota requirement and which risk being merged with others when IEBC conducts the second review that is due.

The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment Bill) 2023 seeks to amend the law to ensure that these constituencies are protected for another minimum of 8 and a maximum of 12 years, allowing them to gradually grow their population to meet the threshold.

“The Constitution only safeguarded the 26 constituencies from the initial review, which took place in March 2012. With the second review due in 2024, 12 years after the first, it is crucial to ensure that the constituencies are not merged with others,” reads the Bill in part.

“These constituencies hold significant cultural and developmental value for their inhabitants. Residents have grown attached to them, viewing them as the focal point for the allocation of developmental resources. Through public participation, they have a say in how resources are utilised for various purposes, such as education, infrastructure and security.”

Ng’ang’a, through the Bill, further argues that merging the vote regions would result in an irredeemable feeling of loss of identity and control on the part of their inhabitants over their local development, much as they will not be literally moved from their homes.

“Therefore, if a constituency is merged within one county, the IEBC would have to adjust the boundaries of other constituencies in a different county to maintain the total of 290 constituencies. This could lead to discord and grievances among counties, as they may perceive others as benefiting at their expense,” reads the Bill.  

“Folding an existing constituency in one county to create a new one elsewhere may be seen as an act of “robbing” a county of its representation and resources. This could potentially lead to unnecessary disharmony and conflicts among counties.”

Panic and anxiety over the impending delimitation of boundaries has also gripped MPs who are opposed to the merger or scrapping of the constituencies.

Mukurweini MP John Kaguchia, whose constituency is in the list, argued that his constituents have been represented in Parliament since independence and they therefore did not anticipate a situation where the change of the Constitution would remove a benefit that they have been enjoying since 1963.

“I strongly support that we have the retention and the protection of all the 26 constituencies that existed before the promulgation of the Constitution… the law also says that you cannot lose a benefit that you already enjoyed before the new Constitution,” said Kaguchia

“We should go ahead and get a formula to add more constituencies so that we can be able to take care of the bigger constituencies that have more people,” added the former Nyeri county assembly speaker.

The emotive nature of the issue also played out on the floor of the House during consideration of the proposal.

Central Imenti MP Moses Nguchine said: “The initiators of the new Constitution did not consider the future of this country by providing that a constituency can be scrapped. The Constitution should not be cast in stone. It should be meeting the needs of the people and (amended to) reflect the will of the people.”

Justice and Legal Affairs Committee  chair George Murugara called for the recognition of all constituencies – including those that do not meet the population quota threshold - as substantive and do away with the intended mergers.

“You cannot take away vested rights of people. The people in these constituencies have over the years accrued what is termed as constituency rights which include CDF and representation in the House. There is no way this House can approbate and reprobate at the same time,” said Murugara.

Suba North MP Millie Odhiambo said, “There were very clear constituencies that were indicated that they will be protected. So I support that those constituencies should not lose their status when we have a delimitation that will be coming before the next election.”

Mandera MP Adan Haji urged the House to fast-track and adopt the amendment within two weeks to ensure that the 26 constituencies remain protected and also give time for IEBC to be properly constituted so that counties such as Banisa can hold their overdue by-election.

Another section of MPs called for the expeditious reconstitution of IEBC and increase in constituencies.

Abdul Ebrahim (Mandera South) said: “Looking at the way the population is growing, we should be looking to create more constituencies and not losing those already existing”.

Rangwe MP Lilian Gogo added: “If anything, we need more constituencies so that even if they are more than the 290, they are reserved for women so we can address this issue of gender parity. Others could even be designated for youth and people with disability so that designated parties with a strong following in those areas are invoked to fill those positions.”

Nyeri Town MP Duncan Mathenge observed that the importance of a cohesive nation is demonstrated in the supreme law and therefore the question of preserving the resources that Kenyans enjoyed before the promulgation of the new Constitution was a key consideration.

“No Kenyan should lose for another Kenyan to gain,” he submitted.