Week of horror for MPs as numbers leaked, phones bombarded with calls and texts

Francis Kimani Kuria

The chairperson National Assembly Finance and Planning Committee Francis Kimani Kuria during a Session at Bunge Towers Nairobi on Thursday, May 23, 2024.

Photo credit: File | Nation Media Group

What you need to know:

  • MPs have endured a wild week after their phone numbers were made public in the week leading up to the introduction of the 2024 Finance Bill into Parliament.

  • Disgruntled youths attempted to contact their legislative representatives to express their dissenting views.

  • The situation escalated when some individuals threatened to expose MPs' private lives and alleged misdeeds.

MPs have endured a wild week after their phone numbers were shared publicly in the week leading to the tabling of the Finance Bill 2024 to the parliament. 

Discontented youth sought to engage with their legislative representatives to express their dissenting opinions. They also meant to remind them to reject the bill.  

That saw the unleashing of a barrage of insults, threats, and other forms of harassment directed at the legislators. 

“...calls were overwhelming, phones battery survived barely for 15mins. The biggest tragedy was lack of content even if one opted to engage them,” lamented the majority whip in the parliament Silvanus Osoro, adding that some even became vulgar.

He went on: “Vulgar language was their order with unprintable names. We were left wondering whether this generation was raised well. We can only sympathize with their time to lead.”

The general tone of the citizens who were unrelenting was dissent and scepticism of their representatives. 

Many people, in particular, flooded MPs with messages threatening electoral repercussions if they supported the bill.

One message, indicative of the general sentiment, read, "If you pass this bill, forget about being elected again."

Most of the MPs' publicly known phone numbers are switched off. In a bid to verify the authenticity of the shared numbers, MPs received numerous monetary transfers via mobile money services – just to confirm the recipients.

"A lot of people were sending me small amounts of money, sometimes as little as one bob, likely to verify if it was me. Others requested that I send them money,” Kimilili MP Didmas Barasa told Nation.Africa

“I received around Sh125,000, which made me realize I have fans out there. Some people asked why I voted 'yes' and expressed disappointment. But when I asked them to explain the bill, they didn't understand it.”

The Kimilili MP said the “experience made me realise the extent of my fan base, and I'm even considering running for the presidential seat in 2032.”

The situation escalated further as some individuals threatened to expose the MPs' private lives and alleged misdeeds. 

These threats have heightened the anxiety among the parliamentarians, with some expressing fears over their safety and that of their families.

On the floor of the house, the National Assembly Majority Leader Kimani Ichung’wah expressed grievances in parliament about being harassed by some Kenyans. 

Mr Ichung’wah lamented that their phone numbers had been circulated on social media, compelling them to block their phones. He also mentioned that MPs had to block certain social media platforms as a result.

“I know many of these members including myself have suffered a lot of harassment. I asked the minority leader whether he had suffered the same and he told me his phone was worse. Many of these Members of Parliament, you cannot reach them on their phones because they have blocked their phones including WhatsApp,” said the Kikuyu MP.

Young people, Mumias East MP Peter Salasya said have become disillusioned and are desperate to be heard, revealing that he received several messages from his constituents. 

“Their voices matter as they are part of the liberation. I received a few threatening messages, which highlights how young people have lost hope and need to be heard,” MP Salasya said. 

“Their voices are crucial in the liberation movement. Many even sent me small amounts, as little as Sh1, which collectively added up to 40,000 shillings,” the MP added.

But the Nominated MP John Mbadi shared that his experience with election-related text messages was quite different from what others might have encountered. 

MP Mbadi said he received only three messages: two on his primary phone line and one on his secondary line.

"While some received hostile messages, my messages were solely about urging me to participate in the voting process, free of any offensive content,” he explained. 

As for Molo MP Kimani Kuria who also doubles as the National Assembly Finance Committee Chair, Kenyans who were verifying his phone number sent him Sh168,000. 

He said he did not know what to do with the money and had written to the parliament clerk for advice on handling the money.

MP Kuria who pointed out that accepting gifts from the public is illegal in the country appreciated that Kenyans used SMS and calls to express their views on the Finance Bill. 

“In a unique way, despite breaching the Data Protection Act by sharing our numbers, I thank the Kenyans who messaged, called, and sent small amounts like sh1, Sh2, and Sh10 to confirm our numbers,” he said.

On Wednesday, Immaculate Kassait, Kenya's Data Protection Commissioner, cautioned against publicly sharing others' personal information.

"This practice has been occurring without the consent of the affected individuals, contrary to Article 31 of the Constitution of Kenya, the Data Protection Act, 2019, and its related regulations," the office stated.

"In light of this, the office advises the public to stop sharing personal information that infringes on individuals' privacy rights."

They highlighted that some of the shared information includes names, phone numbers, locations, and details of family members.

But Kenyans reacted by sharing the data commissioner's phone numbers--and taking her through the same stress she was trying to save MPs from.