17 September 2010

Kenya: Chaos a Lesson for Commonwealth

Nairobi — The violence that followed the 2007 General Election in Kenya became the subject of discussion and an example of what MPs can do to avoid the development of major conflicts in their countries Friday.

MPs Martha Karua and James Orengo led delegates at the ongoing Commonwealth Parliamentary Association (CPA) meeting in discussing the role of Parliament in peace-building, with the post-election violence as a case study.

The topic was selected by the Kenyan organisers and drew vital lessons from Parliament's role in the aftermath of the violence, which led to the formation of the coalition government.

Parliaments in the Commonwealth were asked to improve their work in order to prevent conflicts and strengthen their research capacity to enhance their role in finding out the causes of conflict and ways it can be avoided through pre-emptive action.

With MPs' knowledge and connection with the issues at the grassroots, delegates said, they can play a crucial role in the resolution of issues before they develop into major conflicts with the potential to turn violent.

"Parliaments must do everything to prevent conflicts and conflicts that can become violent," said Peter Wanyande, a professor of political science at the University of Nairobi.

He said the enactment of laws by Parliament to legitimise the settlement of disputes, as happened with the enactment of the National Accord and Reconciliation Act, should also address causes of the conflicts and also seek to avoid future differences.

United Nations special rapporteur on racism and xenophobia Prof Githu Muigai said Commonwealth parliaments need to go outside their historical role of law-making to the development of consensus and peace among the communities.

Prof Muigai said Kenya's case served as a perfect example of the need for MPs to go beyond their work in parliament to creation of harmony between the different communities brought together under one State.

According to Ms Karua, African MPs in particular should be more involved in efforts to bring about peace between communities in their countries since there are situations similar to what happened in Kenya replicated on the continent.

But "political selfishness" in the form of loyalty to parties and party heads also has the chance to enhance impunity, said the Gichugu MP, when MPs refuse to implement recommendations they have already endorsed collectively.

She gave as an example the refusal by Kenyan MPs to enact the bill to form a Special Tribunal to try the post-election violence suspects despite endorsing the report of the Waki Commission, which investigated the chaos.

She said parliaments in the Commonwealth should find ways to encourage each other to work with dedication and commitment to their countries rather than the pursuit of short-term political interests.

This, she said, would eliminate the conflicts that have resulted in the formation of coalition governments in Kenya and Zimbabwe, which she said eventually become "a way of killing democracy" since they result in weak opposition.

"Forced coalitions after elections are not the answer. Electoral and judicial systems need to be stronger so they can be trusted," said Ms Karua.

Prof Muigai said even with the enactment of a new Constitution, it will probably take another three or four generations to resolve historical issues perceived to have fuelled the violence beyond the initial dispute over election results.

"The new Constitution has not resolved historical issues, but it has brought all of them on the table to be addressed. We are now moving in the right direction," said Prof Muigai.

The meeting ends on Saturday.

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