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Flawed democracy to blame for chaos

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Demonstrators at around Parliament on Tuesday, June 25, 2024 against the Finance Bill,  2024.

Photo credit: Dennis Onsongo | Nation Media Group

I tend to feel amused every time someone talks of Kenya as being a ‘democratic State’. There are only minimal indicators that point to the notion of a democratic Kenyan State. One of those is imaginary lines on separation of powers.

Despite the 2010 Kenyan Constitution establishing independent arms of government that are crucial for creating a democracy, the reality for Kenya is that the arms of government are still far from being independent.

Kenyan Parliament is the cradle of democracy given its important roles of legislating and over-sighting. However, given its chequered history, it is not performing these duties satisfactorily. The passing of the controversial Finance Bill 2024 showed how undemocratic Kenya still is.

The MPs who voted yes for the bill were allegedly each bribed with Sh2 million. This was confirmed by Juja MP, George Koimburi, although the Executive later denied the claim. Another MP did confirm receipt of the money and was even prepared to share the bribe with the voters, after the backlash to get back into the good books with voters.

Claims of bribery in Parliament to pass bills, mostly controversial, has become a normative. Another shocking claim by Kimilili MP Didmus Barasa in the past, when he said MPs were being given bribes in the toilets within the precincts of Parliament to vote for a bill in favour of the Executive.

Democracy

MPs in Kenya seem to be ignorant of the meaning of democracy. Them siding with the Executive when there is financial inducement, is a testament to the fact that our Parliament is nothing but a gravy train that attracts the good, the bad and the ugly in society.

An MP flaunting bundles of notes on social media, like a drug lord, can only happen in a country that does not value democracy but upholds enriching its political class. The explosion therefore of millionaire and billionaire politicians who had little to show for their time in Parliament except their lavish lifestyles, was a perfect recipe for the deadly protests witnessed in the country recently. It only took a hungry and angry nation to fight back abuse of power that had become so entrenched.

Denying the correlation between impunity and the protests is denying the existence of the voters themselves, who had put their faith in their elected representatives.

The string that held the fragile democracy in Kenya snapped when protesters stormed Parliament, to show their disapproval of the working of their MPs.

Borne the brunt

With the Yes MPs having borne the brunt of the anger and still in hiding, it won’t be far-fetched to suggest that the current Parliament has lost its mandate and cannot function with two thirds of the MPs (204 precisely), unable to work for fear of their lives and properties, not to mention that they have pre-emptively lost their seats.

A Parliament that has been wanting in its democratic function, cannot fathom to be able to do so now, with a huge number of MPs having gone awol.

Parliament may now rely on its nominated MPs and Senators, but these seats have also become hot potato, as those who occupy them have no clear mandate to represent any voter, and the seats have turned into those reserved for families and friends of political parties than being competitively, fairly and transparently distributed to Kenyans.

A Parliament that has nominated Senators and MPs, whose task is only to talk vulgar, unable to understand the basic working of Parliament or a single bill, cannot fully realise the ideals of a democratic State. A Parliament whose members are the first to commit criminal acts and breach traffic laws, is not one that understands its role and the kind of it should admit. By extension, Kenyan Parliament embraces criminals, perhaps better than Kamiti Maximum Prison. How is a country then meant to enhance democracy, if one of its key institutions has criminal tendencies despite making the laws being in place?

Our Parliament may bear the largest blame in the chaos and all the problems we are experiencing with political violence and corruption, but the Executive takes the medal in muddying the waters, by undermining the spirit of separation of powers. Allegedly offering MPs money to vote in a way only favourable to the Executive, is akin to severing one of the legs the government stands on.

If Parliament and all the other arms of government and crucial bodies such as the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions cannot function independently as per the Constitution, then we cannot claim to be a democracy.

As long as we hold on to a fake version of democracy, the disconnect between the MPs and the voters will continue and so will the protests. A true democracy means free and independent arms of government, to enhance better governance and accountability. We fail on both.

Ms Guyo is a legal researcher, [email protected], @kdiguyo