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Unveiling the mysteries of the Kenyan Parliament…

…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).

13 comments to Unveiling the mysteries of the Kenyan Parliament…

  • At a quick glance, amazing how the “supplementary appropriations bill” went through the reading process chap chap, while everything else lingers at “first reading”

    Ory, you are bad for me. I’m an academic, not a politician! But you so make me want to do silly things, like run for office.

    Run Keguro, run!

  • Glad to hear that you are enjoying the vagaries of dealing with public servants in Kenya.

    As an aside, am I the only one who is also bothered by the fact the official website of the Kenyan Parliament is hosted as part of the content on the site of a commercial media firm?

    Makes me thnk that this site is still pre-release.

    The site is definitely pre-release…I thought that was pretty clear.

  • Running for office given the legislative hallucinate tendencies derived from obvious myopia that materializes-no pan intended, to suck in even the most even keel of individuals is not a terrain I’d want to tread not withstanding the beguiling perks.

    Let me draw your attention to the current unraveling events. Prudence would otherwise dictate that Parliament has to be reconvened, yet the implications of such progressive action can be diminished by ‘kindergarten temperament’ embraced by our politicians if not outright contempt for this process that is intended to institute change, align priorities while forging the future. I wonder at times if we really have a future, really!

    For a political junkie, I envy your resolve irrespective of the death defying antics and heartbreak that Kenyans have been through yet they pay their taxes in hope and faith that somehow someway in doing so, posterity will be secured.

    Not being able to coordinate a rescue operation at the least given our eventful history and current turmoil is a tragic irony of the current state of affairs we’ve been shamelessly subjected to and have to come to terms with. Question is, why & how should we accept it?

    First step is to quit gnashing our teeth already….

  • Prousette

    The kenyan parliament still wants to operate like the mysterious secretive council on male and female elders of old. They would then inspire fear in people who would bow to their every whim not knowing we moved on ages ago.
    Are qualifications professional or otherwise things to be ashamed about really? Considering they have the job anyway?

  • Hey Ory – very interesting post. I have included it in my round-up of democracy in the blogosphere on my blog. PS: we have the same problem of low-attendance & “confidentiality” of pertinent information in the Moroccan Parliament. If you figure out some way to break through the Parliamentary road-blocks, please let me know. Best, Mary

    Thanks. Will do!

  • I certainly hope you make a lot of progressive & competent policy folk want to do “silly things” like Bw. Keguro. That’s a good start. My hat’s already in the ring. A little nosy business here, what project are you working on? Aaaand, why don’t you run for office, Ory?

    Right now let me focus on conversions :-)

  • JKE

    Interesting point with the gym – always wondered what’s in that tower at parliament buildings (?)…

    Good question! Let’s see if my sources can reveal anything.

  • LOL @ JKE and the tower! Been very persistent in finding out what’s in that tower. Haha!

  • acolyte

    Keep up the fight!They will make it as hard as possibe but we demand to know the truth!!But you are doing well so far.As for alcoblow it seeems these folk never run out of a way to milk the government and taxpayers!

    Thanks! Will do…

  • Osas

    A remark on the side, as to corroborate Ory’s experience:
    I have tried for months to get into contact with Njoki Ndung’u, with an issue of gender-specific legislation. But this… uhh… woman… neither has any valid email address, nor answers faxes and letters. Untypical ?

    Very typical…I think i have her email address somewhere (yahoo one)…not that it helped.

  • wa Nyoike Kamau

    Hey, what’s with all these lo stuff? This is so overtaken by time.
    Jus wondering though, does Kalonzo the son of Musyoka think that the Odiero movement will hand him the torch? I think the relay is started and finished by the Odieros and any runner thinking of sniffing the mantle is seriously fascinating his dreams.

  • There are some really great ideas here. Can’t wait to put some of these into action. Its really going to bring good vibrations where the vibrations should be

  • Hello I can not access your rss feed Something trouble? Can you fix it? Thanks great post! thanks!