…has been much harder than I could ever have imagined.
I have a project that I’m trying to get going that on some level might need to rely on the largesse of the very institution that I’m about to throw barbs at, but oh well….
As recently reported by the Standard and blogged by Andy Carvin, Kenya is way behind its neighbours in East Africa and is even outdone by some of the most repressive regimes in the world. As Andy notes, “it seems clear that the policy reflects a skittishness that borders on paranoid.”
EDIT: Apparently a new initiative to “strengthen Parliament’s Information Systems in Africa” was launched last February. You can learn more about the project here. According to my source, the project intends to make calendars, bills, the hansard, acts, etc. available online and has been making good progress. That’s great news not just in terms of facilitating citizens’ right to information, but it will also make my life a lot easier! Hat tip A!
That’s what I’ve encountered so far skittish paranoia Particularly in the aftermath of the ICAD report on participation in parliament. (An aside, the reports make for very interesting reading. Two reports have been published so far and are available at the cost of Kshs 200 from ICAD. You can reach them on telephone numbers 020-601776/601274).
Make that moronic paranoia, seeing that the website is still available here. Shhh don’t tell anyone ;-).
I highly recommend reading the copies of the Hansard that they’ve made available. OK I’m also just a politics junkie. The level of (non)debate that goes is astonishing…reason enough to make sure that getting the Hansard, a public document, is the most tedious process ever.
It’s not just that the MPs appear to be ashamed of their backgrounds, or that they don’t want people to have concrete evidence that they don’t earn their salaries, the parliamentary machinery / old hands particularly the clerk are extremely territorial for whatever reason. Perhaps, if they feel that if things open up they will have to cede control and the little sense of self-importance they’ve managed to achieve from their positions.
Actually, the more I keep trying to extract the information that I’m looking for the more I feel like I’m dealing with some Gestapo-type institution and not a public body. You should see how far down my jaw drops every time I find out just what I can’t find out, for instance did you know that the attendance list is “confidential.” The Hansard maintains a record of attendance when the lack of quorum is brought to the attention of the speaker, otherwise getting official attendance lists is still a mystery I’m trying to unravel. I presume that there is some official way of requesting that, but my already low-levels of patience have run dry and I’m finding it more fruitful to develop leaks.
ICAD has had a relationship with the parliament in the past, which is how they could have obtained their information…I’m still yet to confirm. I was also told that some researchers hire people to sit in the public gallery everyday and make mental notes of who showed up. Why mental notes? Because you are not allowed to carry any writing material into the public gallery….no pen, no paper, nothing. I’m contemplating a fancy-ass recorder if I’m able to raise funding though. I also thought about getting a press pass (as a citizen journalist…some official would probably think I work for Citizen!), but I was advised by my “unofficial sources” that getting a parliament press pass is a testing exercise and that they are typically reserved for connected media folks. Not sure how true this is, but right now I’d rather spend my time on more fruitful ventures.
Speaking of more fruitful ventures…like relearning how to get the information that I need when in Nairobi.
It’s not just parliament that is closed the same experience applies pretty much anywhere official. As Prodigal Daughter astutely (and humorously) points out, “Information in nairobi is not held by things like 411 or directories or google or gawdforbid, the newspaper. someone always knows Someone with a solution to whatever problem you might have. and if they don’t know Someone, they know someone who knows Someone. it is a tangled web that nairobians manage to maneuver with mad ease.”
For a while there I was operating like I was still in Cambridge where I could have access to instant information with no problems, and I thought I could bulldoze(shit) my way through the official channels. Wrong! I was getting nowhere and I’d even began to think that the project would be a non-starter. Then I happened to mention my lack of progress to a friend who has absolutely no connection to Parliament, but who knew “A Guy ” and things changed overnight. Literally. “The Guy” and the contacts he put me in touch with (now my unofficial sources) were and continue to be so helpful, that the cynic in me has temporarily gone into hiding…and they are doing it for no other reason than a belief in what the project is trying to accomplish.
Random gossip: Kenyan MPs have an exclusive gym in the basement of Commonwealth House that is hardly ever-used, except for the massage room and sauna room. And Alcoblow’s premature death is no big deal since the scheme was all part of the get-rich-quick plan devised by the suppliers of the gadgets…either Kibaki’s son or Michuki’s son (the bar versions of the story differ).