Why MPs Represent Themselves

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MPs have been furiously criticised over their rejection of Dr Monica Juma as Secretary to the Kenya Cabinet. The MPs have demonstrated no regret and appear not to appreciate the reason for the public outcry. It is therefore possible that MPs have a unique perspective that those outside politics may not have.

The road to winning a seat in the national assembly is one only a few qualified people are willing to walk. It is an unpredictable high risk venture that leaves many candidates and their families indebted, emotionally rattled and occasionally physically wounded.

Lets take the real life example of a 2007 campaign of a professional to unseat a long standing incumbent. The candidate, whom we shall call Maina, made up his mind to vie for office, in this rural constituency, after the 2002 election. Maina then started to save money from his salary with an international organization. He also sounded out close friends for advice and fortunately received the commitment of a core group. His friends organized a few city events and also accompanied him to constituency activities. Maina’s salary and friends were the only campaign capital he had in 2004. Everything else that he used to unseat the wealthy incumbent was earned by wit, grit and unshakable conviction.

Maina approached local Kenya National Union of Teachers (KNUT) officials and asked them to join him in conducting mock exams for standard eight candidates. Main knew that many public schools couldn’t afford to test their students, at KCPE level, before the actual exam. The mock exam exalted the stature of the KNUT officials (who are also teachers), among their colleagues and they became critical campaign allies on the ground. Grateful parents, of the students, became votes in the bag. The costs of developing, distributing and marking the exam were all borne by Maina. Maina complimented this exercise by inviting his friends to give regular mentoring talks to students in schools.

Maina’s constituency has two major ethnic groups. He had to endear himself, to opinion shapers of the other ethnic group, with no real money or public office from which to dole out favours. He sold his development convictions, to these people over many lunches, in up market restaurants on his tab.

He then began to seek introductions to the local influential well to do. After long days, he would head out to the golf course. Here Maina would stroke egos and make promises from the first to the ninth and even eighteenth hole. He would then drive for four hours, in the dark, back to Nairobi to be at work the next morning.

In 2007, he started to have the bigger meetings, including an investors’ conference. It was then, after three solid campaign years at his own costs, that he began to receive some media coverage. He had by then quit his job for practical campaign reasons. Although he had received some funds from a few wealthy supporters, most of the campaign money, sweat and any tears were his. There was no national euphoria that created any wave for Maina to ride. He unseated the long time incumbent with a large margin.

To whom did Maina owe allegiance when he got to Parliament? His constituents? Perhaps, in theory and on Constitutional paper. His constituents had not helped him earn his seat in any way. In fact, he had given them plenty. It was him who was owed, not them. What of the public interest? Again, this is largely a theoretical preposition. Maina had talked himself dry for three years and funded most of his expensive activities. He did remember his friends and hosted them at a thanksgiving party. And with that, his debts were paid. It was the turn of Kenya, who now had a good MP, to replenish his depleted bank accounts. The Kenyan MP represents the person who won him his seat – himself.

Few Twitter activists are willing to do the hard work and take the risks that Maina took. This does not mean that the travesty of Dr Juma’s vetting should be ignored. But it does mean that those who want MPs to represent the public interest must themselves vie for those positions. Alternatively, they should put their money where their mouth is and fundraise seriously for candidates.


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