MPs on notice to uphold Parliament’s dignity through dress code compliance

Members of Parliament during a past session.

Photo credit: File I Nation media Group

What you need to know:

  • June 29, 2023: Gatundu South MP Gabriel Kagombe is kicked out of the chamber by Speaker Wetang’ula for wearing a turban, usually worn by men who ascribe to Akorino, Sikhism and Islam religions. Mr Kagombe, when asked by Speaker Wetang'ula whether he belongs to any of these religions, responds in the negative.   

  • April 18, 2023: Kiambu Senator Karungo Thang’wa and his Nyandarua colleague John Methu are kicked out of Senate chambers for wearing short-sleeved shirts. 

  • February 14, 2023: Nominated Senator Gloria Orwoba is thrown out of the House after her campaign for free sanitary pads for women and girls runs afoul of the parliamentary dress code. She was dressed in a white pantsuit and a green top, but her trousers were deliberately stained with a pinkish substance to symbolise menstrual blood. 

  • February 14, 2023: Nominated Senator Karen Nyamu, dressed in a sleeveless top, is kicked out for exposing her arms.

  • January 19, 2023: Kitui Senator Enoch Wambua is blocked from participating virtually in the House proceedings after he logged on to the system wearing a red sports jacket with a Kenyan flag. Speaker Amason Kingi told him to go and dress properly. 

  • February 20, 2019: Rarieda MP Otiende Amollo is clad in a collar-less shirt but is saved by Speaker Justin Muturi who promises to rule on the matter later. 

  • August 22, 2018: Murang’a Woman MP Sabina Chege is dressed in short sleeves, exposing her arms but Deputy Speaker Moses Cheboi saves her when he rules that she is appropriately dressed. 

  • February 12, 2014: Awendo MP Jared Opiyo, in his first term, is ordered out of Parliament for showing up with exposed arms. 

  • March 4, 2011: Makadara MP Mike Mbuvi Sonko is kicked out of the National Assembly for wearing ear studs and sunglasses

The imposition of dress codes in parliaments around the world has a purpose and was well intentioned.

It was intended to preserve the honour and dignity of parliament, the august house, the house of debate.

English dictionaries define the word “august” largely to mean hallowed, with decorum, honour, distinguished, of great importance, and high respect in society. The other meaning is the eighth month of the year.

Consequently, a Member of Parliament should behave in a manner befitting the dictates of the "August House", including observing the dress code while in the precincts of Parliament.

However, the rate at which MPs have been ejected from the House for inappropriate dress code in the recent past is on a different level.

At least five MPs have been ejected from the Chamber for inappropriate dress.

The latest of these MPs is Mr Gabriel Kagombe (Gatundu South), a first-time MP, on June 29. 2023. Mr Kagombe is rarely in the House, and when he is, he rarely contributes to debates.

The Speaker of the National Assembly, Moses Wetang'ula, has warned MPs that adherence to the parliamentary dress code will not be compromised.

“As a matter of fact, observance of proper dress code by members helps to maintain the decorum and dignity of the National Assembly as an August House. I implore upon members to see to it that their dress code reflects high standards of decorum that befits their honourable positions,” Mr Wetang’ula said.

“I render this guidance with the understanding that by virtue of the high office of an MP in society, they are expected to lead by example and uphold the highest standards of conduct. Proper attire is thus a vital aspect of this conduct,” the Speaker added.

Mr Wetang'ula's directive sums up the fact that gone are the days when a decorous dress code within the precincts of Parliament was inextricably linked with the lawmakers.

One could be forgiven for thinking that the Kenyan Parliament has lost the meaning of an August House.

A good number of sitting MPs do not observe the dress code within the precincts of Parliament and even their behaviour has become something of a nuisance.

It's even worse for female MPs and staff, the majority of whom could easily be described as skimpily dressed.

Rule 9 of the Speaker's Rules, first published by the then Clerk of the National Assembly Michael Sialai in 2017 and revised in 2022, states that MPs, members of the press and guests should not enter the plenary chamber, members' lounge, dining room or committee rooms of Parliament without being properly dressed.

“A proper dress for men means a coat, collar, tie, long-sleeved shirt, long trousers, socks and shoes or service uniform,” the rules state.

The rules further dictate that for women, proper dressing implies business, formal or smart casual wear.

“Skirts and dresses should be below knee-length and decent. Sleeveless blouses are prohibited,” the rules state.

In the debating chamber, the Speaker has had to remove members who are deemed to be inappropriately dressed.

In committee meetings, the extensions of plenary, this rule has not been treated with the seriousness it deserves.

Cases of MPs appearing in committee rooms inappropriately dressed are rampant. Some appear in House committee meetings without ties, wearing jeans, T-shirts and short-sleeved shirts, while others wear tight-fitting trousers.

It is now common to see a female MP, staff or member of the press in revealing clothing, dresses or skirts above the knees.

The 10th, 11th and part of the 12th Parliaments, especially towards the end, were very careful to protect the honour of the August House in matters of dress.

The 13th Parliament, which took office after the August 9, 2022 General Election and is barely halfway through its second session, has not been impressive in this regard.

To salvage the image of the 13th Parliament, Mr Wetang'ula has issued firm instructions to committee chairpersons that a decent dress code for MPs, staff, members of the press and visitors is not a matter of choice but a dictate of the Speaker's Rules.

“My attention has been drawn to members attending committee meetings, activities or such specified places in the rules while donned in attires that are inappropriate or dressed in a manner that departs from what would pass as decorous parliamentary dress code,” he said.

The Speaker noted that he would not let his guard down as he instructed the chairpersons of the House committees to enforce the existing Speaker's Rules in their respective committee meetings and activities "just as I would enforce them in the House".

The Speaker reiterated that the parliamentary dress code was firmly rooted in parliamentary traditions and jealously guarded by parliaments around the world, and that Kenya would be no exception.

On June 6, 2023, Mukurweini MP John Kagucia attended a meeting of the Justice and Legal Affairs Committee (JLAC), of which he is a member, wearing black jeans.

Earlier this year, Mr Kagombe attended a meeting of the Public Accounts Committee (PAC) wearing black jeans and no tie.

In the 11th Parliament, Ainabkoi MP Samuel Chepkonga, then chairman of the House Committee on Justice and Legal Affairs (JLAC), was forced to eject Kiharu MP Irungu Kang'ata, now the Governor of Murang'a, for inappropriate dress.

At the time, committee members were meeting to vet retired judge Kalpana Rawal after she was nominated as deputy chief justice by then President Uhuru Kenyatta.

Previous Speakers of Parliament have been invited by MPs to guide the House on issues of proper dress code, particularly in plenary and committee sessions.

For instance, in the 10th Parliament, then MP Jakoyo Midiwo (now deceased) invited the then Speaker, Mr Kenneth Marende, to provide guidance on the issue of proper dress code and whether the rule should be relaxed to allow for alternative attire, including national or cultural outfits.

However, Mr Marende told the House that the essence of his communication was not limited to the concept of appropriate dress code, but that “extends to capture a deep reflection on the need to uphold the dignity of the House, which we have jealously protected and defended over the years”.

“I therefore urge all honourable members to uphold the dignity of the House and observe the Speaker’s rules on dress code, not only in this chamber but also in committees, the lounges and the dining areas,” stated Mr Marende.

Mr Wetang’ula was at the time MP for Sirisia constituency.

On February 20, 2019, in the 12th Parliament, then Kisumu West MP Olago Aluoch sought the Speaker’s guidance on what constitutes appropriate dress code for members in the House’s plenary.

Mr Justin Muturi, now Attorney-General, was the Speaker at the time.

Mr Muturi said; “….I must emphasise that it is in the interest of members that whenever they appear in the House or its committees to transact business, they do so in decorous attire befitting their stature as legislators and that of Parliament as an institution,” stated Mr Muturi.

He noted that the same applies to members while in the lounge and dining room.

“I hasten to restate that whenever the House shall find a member to be improperly dressed, the chair will not hesitate to enforce strict adherence to proper dressing.”

So serious is the parliamentary dress code that Mr Muturi warned that members “who incessantly dress improperly will be deemed to be disorderly and may be subject to applicable sanctions”.