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REMARKS BY LINUS KAIKAI, CHAIRMAN KENYA EDITORS GUILD DURING THE NATIONAL ASSEMBLY BREAKFAST, TUESDAY JUNE 7, 2016

Mr Speaker,

I do appreciate we have a tight programme with many speakers, and I beg, all protocols observed, to go straight to my points this morning.

A man revered to date as the evil genius of the art of politics once said and I quote: “For as good habits of the people require good laws to support them, so laws, to be observed, need good habits on the part of the people.” End of quote. Mr Speaker, this quote is very easily about Kenyans. At all levels; leaders to the ordinary mwananchi, we speak obsessively about a Constitution we do not read and laws we do not observe, and while at it, habits we never bother to assess.

In Kenya’s epic battle between laws and habits, our country sometimes looks and sounds a bit like an Amusement Park! And the battle in my opinion, is essentially between good laws and bad habits. The episodes are many, and very often, tragically comical!  When it is not a crook dressing up as a priest to commit a crime, it is a Supreme Court Judge or two going to a lower Court to challenge and I suppose change their ages! In a world where not many are keen on growing old, this case must generate a lot of interest!

Mr. Speaker, talking of growing old or indeed growing up, we recently celebrated our 53rd anniversary a self-governing Nation. Mr. Speaker, you recall we did this in a uniquely Kenyan way. For us in the media, Madaraka Day tested our skills to the limit for we had two different audiences to serve fairly, objectively and impartially as the cardinal rules of professional disinterested journalism require us.  On television we had to give viewers a split screen consisting the official celebrations in Afraha Stadium Nakuru on one side and the CORD rally in Uhuru Park Nairobi on the other. Newspaper editors faced the same dilemma the next day, splitting the front newspaper page to accommodate equally the two rival events.

Mr. Speaker, anniversaries are about reflections and at 53 years of self-rule, events of the last few weeks must send us countrymen into some deep, collective soul-searching. We must boldly assess our country’s body and soul; from political leadership to the public service… the police to the judiciary… religious groups and civil societies, education sector and even the media…  Everywhere we turn, one pertinent question begs today; What the hell is going on?   

Mr. Speaker, I recently sat down for a chat with a senior citizen of this country who took me down memory lane of the first two decades of our independence. I left the meeting heavy hearted because here was an old man who blow-by-blow painted a picture of a better country of days gone by. He showed me faded pictures of President Jomo Kenyatta’s early cabinets and told me about an efficient public bus service in Nairobi and upcountry, a train service to Nyahururu and Nanyuki, tarmacked roads and effective law and order agencies that either prevented, investigated or punished crime. When I asked the old man to compare life then and now, he uttered an epithet and he spat missing my shoe narrowly.  

Across the political divide Mr. Speaker, Kenya today finds itself stuck deep in an avoidable leadership crisis.  Between government and the opposition, a perilous deficiency is repeatedly pushing the country to the brink, and mockingly away from it then back again. Yesterday, a fifth life was needlessly lost in what is essentially an egotistic contest between two sides whose value for human life must now be called to question.

Mr. Speaker few weeks ago, during the World Press freedom day, I observed that the country is divided into two halves – and every aspect of public life sadly reflects that divide. In our polarized nation it’s been a consistent black-or-white affair of Jubilee vs CORD, Uhuru Kenyatta vs Raila Odinga, and increasingly this tribe versus that tribe or this block of tribes versus that block of tribes. I observe sadly Mr Speaker that even the civil society, once the bastion of our nationalism and the quest for common good, has not been able to resist the temptation to join camps. A human rights group is still smarting from a bizarre move by its leader to literally switch sides, condemning demonstrators and not the police for infringing on constitutional rights to picketing and assembly.  Mr. Speaker, should you want to confirm more on the big divide I am talking about, just log onto any social media platform particularly Facebook and Twitter and witness for yourself the depth of the divide, the bitterness of the fight and the intensity of ethnic animosity among Kenyans of either side of the divide.

The contest over the future of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission IEBC has only provided a new platform upon which these divisions are showcased. It is however the lack of clarity in the conversation around the IEBC that should worry the remaining sober Kenyans. What exactly does CORD want? And what is Jubilee defending? None of them has been eloquent enough or sufficiently clear. All we know now is that the IEBC is caught between the condemnation of an opposition that is largely clueless on an alternative, and the support of a government that is apparently shielding it from credibility questions.  Morally, Mr. Speaker, this constitutes that tight, cold proverbial space between a rock and a hard place from which the leadership of the IEBC must make its own tough choices.

Mr Speaker, depending on where one stands, there must have been a section of Kenyans that felt relieved when they saw those now infamous handshakes at the State House on Tuesday last week. But it turned out the moment was a false promise with rigorous denials almost suggesting the moment never happened!

Mr. Speaker, this once again leaves you as the man on the spot. As the leader of the institution that is expected to solve many of Kenya’s legislative puzzles, all eyes expectantly turn your way. With 150 Members of Parliament having signed up to resolve the IEBC question, there’s reason for Kenyans to give the National Assembly a try on this one. I also note the publication of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission Amendment Bill 2016 as well as the Constitution of Kenya Amendment Bill 2016 fronted by Member of Parliament Samuel Chepkonga. The signatures and the publication of the bills are an encouraging pointer towards an alternative route out of the IEBC impasse.

Mr Speaker, millions of eyes will shortly be trained on these parliamentary initiatives with hopes that both sides of our nation’s deep political divide shall draw some satisfaction. Of importance here Mr Speaker will be the role of your leadership in shepherding the house down the path of bigger, bipartisan, national and ultimately all inclusive causes.

Mr. Speaker, I obviously feel restrained by the fact that you are our host this morning. I promise to hold back, except to urge you to have the courage to rise above the din of partisan, parochial interests and be for the house majority party Jubilee what Kenneth Marende was for house majority party ODM; a voice of reason, promoter of moderate positions, defender of sobriety and ultimately the judicious and impartial bearer of the Solomonic sword.  This, I must repeat, requires courage. If all else fails Mr Speaker, commit yourself never to fall in the same pit a second time by ensuring that for the rest of your term, no law shall ever be passed over your drenched robes like was the case with the Security Amendment Bill of December last year. Let NOT brawn and brawl but debate and discourse be the way of conducting business in your August House and lead parliament to with civility live its maxim of ‘Let the Majority have their Way and the Minority have their Say.

Talking of Majorities and Minorities, I acknowledge the presence of Majority Leader Adan Duale and Minority Leader Francis Nyenze. Both of you may need to appreciate the gravity of the positions you hold in our ever young democracy.  I salute you for the endeavors of the last four years, and remind you of your onerous duty of whipping the House into passing legislation to actualize different sections of the constitution. You succeeded in some, delayed in some and failed entirely in others like the contentious One-Third Gender Rule.

Mr. Speaker, I do encourage the House Majority and Minority Leader to join you in working hard to secure the legacy of the 11th Parliament. Few would envy that task Mr. Speaker. In our last engagement, I made observations about this house, and regrettably, the observations remain intact one year down the line. I did say Mr. Speaker, that this is the most faceless Parliament in the entire history of our Nation.  This parliament, the largest since independence has the least distinguished debaters ever. I said Mr Speaker, Martin Shikuku, Jean Marie Seroney and even George Anyona would die again within hours of resurrection if they found themselves in this House. Paul Muite, Martha Karua, Mukhisa Kituyi and Farah Maalim would hardly into this house. And Mr Speaker, this is the only only Parliament ever where more than two-thirds of its Members have to introduce themselves; ‘hello Mimi ni Mheshimiwa…’; we used to know MPs – we knew people!

Mr. Speaker, the 11TH Parliament may however take the consolation, if I can call it, that it is not the only institution that is in decline in recent years. As a country, we must reflect and ask simple questions like; Why after all these years would Uganda and Rwanda opt for Tanzania as their route to the Indian Ocean? And why on earth would Sudan lecture us about our tea which they must import anyway?

 Mr. Speaker, I can sense at this point, especially among the parliamentary ranks that, I may be sounding progressively negative but I am afraid it must be stated as it is for this is the true State of Our Nation. As editors and journalists, we interact closely with you and many other sectors of our society every day. We are witnesses of our country’s journey and our fingers are firmly on the pulse of our nation. As citizens, our emotions as media practitioners are permanently on a roller-coaster. In good times, we celebrate with our countrymen in the athletics tracks of Birmingham and Beijing and the Rugby fields of Australia and Las Vegas. In sad times, we mourn with our fellow countrymen in Huruma  and Garissa, Westgate and Turbi. And at all the times, we strive to be the effective link between the governed and those who govern, and between the elected representatives of both houses of Parliament and their electors in counties and constituencies.

Mr Speaker, in our interlinked space in the service of Kenyans we are all together bound by one unbreakable knot; our commitment and love for our country, our flag and our people.

Mr Speaker, in the time-honored language of your house, I beg to move.

Linus Kaikai – Chairman, KEG.
NAIROBI, JUNE 7, 2016

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