Yesterday, Kenya’s 10th Parliament convened formally, to implement the Harambee House Accord. Kenya’s urban middle classes bask in the justified relief of our country being pulled back from the very brink of civil war. But the 600,000 Kenyans living in appalling destitution in IDP camps have nothing to celebrate.
The lavish motorcades to Parliament, the assurances of speedy economic recovery, the pretense that everything is "back to business as usual", are the clearest signs we could have of the criminal blindness and self-interest of the political class. This is the blindness and greed that dragged Kenya into this crisis in the first place. Never again can Kenyans allow the power and resources of the country to be concentrated in the hands of a tiny, powerful elite.
So what must we do?
Firstly, stay involved in civil society initiatives set up in the past two months. Rescue Kenya offers a comprehensive list of the groups and organizations set up, across all sectors, from civilian humanitarian relief to political action. Among the forces that brought Kenya back from the abyss, the strength and speed with which Kenyan civil society mobilized, domestically and internationally, cannot be discounted.
Secondly, participate in the political process. Tom Maliti, AP Kenya correspondent, offers this blueprint:
"As citizens, it is our national duty to remind our parliamentary leaders that this is not just about them. It is about all of us.
"How do we do that? Many of us went to the same school with a current member of parliament or have worked with them or just attended a half day seminar with them before they became politicians. Or it was their relative we were in school with or the person we know is an aide or key ally.
"We are connected. This is one time we need to make those connections work. Individually, for example writing to them, or collectively through the neighbourhood association.
"If the member of parliament is not easy to reach, try your local councillor. Many councillors live in the ward they represent and are easy to find. Many also act as grassroots mobilisers or coordinators for members of parliament and can easily get in touch with the area member of parliament.
"Under the arrangement elaborated in the accords, there is not going to be a significant opposition in parliament. So who will act as a check on the government? Ensure that what the politicians have agreed to is implemented? As citizens we will be required to be more vigilant than before.
"In the months to voting day, lots of questions were raised about the type of political parties we have. The chaotic nominations of parliamentary and civic candidates prompted many of those questions. The general sense was, "Well, that is politics for you". It doesn’t have to be that way. And there’s a possible answer: the Political Parties Bill.
"It was passed by parliament in November and is waiting for the assent of President Mwai Kibaki. The importance of this bill is it proposes to steer our political parties to become mature organizations that are responsive to their members and have a national agenda.
The Political Parties Bill requires political parties to report each year to the Registrar of Political Parties on their membership countrywide, financing and other issues. If passed, a lot of briefcase parties will disappear simply for failing the membership criteria. The bill also provides for the Treasury to give some funding to parties with a certain level of representation at the council or National Assembly level. This could, I emphasise could, help political parties ease the grip people with deep pockets have on them. The catch is this: it does not have clear criteria on limits of funding by an individual or company, nor does it make it mandatory for parties to disclose who is funding them and how.
"The Political Parties Bill offers an opportunity towards a different politics. Talk to your MP to talk to the president to sign the bill into law.
"But matters do not end there. Assuming your preferred political party is able to recruit a substantial and committed national membership, is able to fundraise for its needs, will willingly and publicly account for the monies, and has a clear agenda that is tied to principles and not individuals, where are the people to make all this happen?
"A big challenge for any political party today is staff. From the simplest job to the most complex. Many people volunteer their time, services and money during election time. Once the election is over, however, they go back to their routines. And yet we still expect political parties to work and satisfy our ideals of what politics should be. Why?
"If you recognise Kenya is at a historical moment and want to make a contribution, opportunity is knocking at your door. Answer, give time to your preferred political party, even if it is just one Saturday a month.
"If you don’t, who will?"
This will be my final Kenya Crisis blog on Mshale. In addition to the demands of my other life, as a working and touring artist, I will be devoting my time to working on the ground in Nairobi with Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice.
My thanks to all of you who have read this blog in the last 2 months, shared and acted on the information in it. May we all continue to work for a Kenya where every life is of equal value.
About Shailja Patel
Shailja Patel is a Kenyan poet, writer and theatre artist who has performed at venues from New York's Lincoln Center to the Zanzibar International Film Festival. Patel's first full-length show, Migritude, premiered in the San Francisco Bay Area, and toured Kenya to critical acclaim in 2007. The show was selected as the subject of the 2007 season premiere of SPARK! – KQED TV's award-winning arts programme .Patel's work has received awards from, among others, the Ford Foundation, the National Performance Network, and Indian American Women Empowered. Most recently, she is a founding member of Kenyans for Peace with Truth and Justice, a coalition of Kenyan citizens and legal, governance, and human rights organizations, working towards a viable peace in the Kenya Crisis stemming from the December 2007 elections.