Whenever the role of parliament as an agent of nation-building, especially in fragile developing states is discussed, the wise words of Edmund Burke keep coming. Edmund Burke, a philosopher and a once long serving member of the House of Commons keeps on reminding us that, “parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest”.
On this however, the Kenyan Parliament is yet to prove itself as having the “one interest” for the Nation if recent happenings and utterances are anything to go by. Observers and citizens alike can contend that it has not done itself any favours in safeguarding national interests. In the recent past, the institution has been picked as a battleground to flex political muscles and party superiorities at the expense of public interest. To bring this into perspective, in the last two weeks, this scenario has repeated itself. To be specific, the National Assembly was put into disrepute and came out as an arena of combatants with irreconcilable interests.
It is, therefore, a misnomer when Parliament becomes a House of extreme opinions devoid of consensus. Assuming national interests were the common denominator of our Parliamentarians, then the kind of political posturing and bickering we are witnessing would be minimal or non-existent.
It is agreeable that law is the glue that binds our social contract together. If a situation arises where one segment of the society makes law that suits them in total isolation of the rest, then the balance is tilted and the contract may no longer hold. The dangers of tampering with the social contract may be dire to the extent of throwing Kenya into anarchy.
Therefore, when making the law, all opinions and cadres of the society must be considered. There is no doubt that this was the reason why public participation was made one of Kenya’s national values in the 2010 Constitution. Resultantly, Parliament, as a representative of the people, and the institution that exercises the sovereignty of the people in trust, ought to be the facilitator in bringing this consensus.
Experience has shown us that to make good, effective and inclusive laws, the legislature needs to take time to build consensus. Taking time to do something right for the nation is statesmanship. In the end, when a law favours the interests of one side and oppresses another, not only does one faction lose but the represented. . This can only escalate the prevailing environment of mistrust in Kenya.
For instance, in making the contested election-related laws on political parties, Parliament ought to have honoured the clarion call of legislating for national interests to unify the country and save us from unnecessary tension. Election strains passions and there is no better way of cooling those passions than making election laws that take care of the fears of all those who take part in the contest. Instead, our Parliamentarians often decide to legislate election laws in a hurry, and worse, to take different routes where the main contenders face each other from the furthest ends of their extreme stands ready to subdue each other.
Away from the legislative process in Parliament, we cannot shy away from the fact that Kenya is a fragile state especially when elections are involved. During this time, negative ethnicity and polarisation are more pronounced as leaders herd their followers to ethnic cocoons. Utterances that are meant to whip communal emotional responses become the norm. Nothing could be threatening to the well-being and preservation of Kenya than this. The fragility of a state is catalysed by imperfect institutions and sometimes rebellion without a cause. Nation-building by adhering to our national values must be accorded priority and must be the guiding principle of our leaders.
If parliament continues in this trajectory, it risks becoming the source of anarchy and intolerance. It should reflect on where it receives its legitimacy from, the people, and from thereon legislate in the interest of the people. Parliament cannot risk becoming a chamber where local ethnic prejudices and personal interests are amplified and pursued with a hard stance. Good people, this is a dangerous trajectory. To preserve the state and avert chaos, Parliament must rise to the occasion and be a national symbol of unity regardless of whatever interests. Our leaders must not polarise the nation but must instead harness national interests and unity.
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