Mombasa Senator Hassan Omar and Kisumu Senator Anyang’ Nyong’o
A number of senators have opted to vie for other elective positions in August. Why has the House lost its sheen?
The re-introduction of Senate under a new constitutional dispensation in 2013 saw the majority of county political heavyweights seek the voters’ nod to sit in the House.
At the time, the Senate appeared, at least compared to other jurisdictions, as the Upper House meant to play a supervisory role over the National Assembly, complete with veto powers in a bicameral arrangement that came with the Constitution 2010.
Senior politicians hastily vacated the constituencies they had represented in the National Assembly to play in the apparent bigger league and what appeared to be an enhanced mandate of representing the interests of the counties, as opposed to constituencies they had already conquered.
The country’s most vocal and eloquent debaters from across the political divide shifted gears and headed for the ‘more superior’ House.
It was this allure that brought to the Senate such experienced figures as James Orengo, Kiraitu Murungi, Anyang’ Nyong’o, David Musila, Boni Khalwale, Yusuf Haji, GG Kariuki, Kembi Gitura and even former long-serving Attorney General Amos Wako.
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Ekwee Ethuro, another legislator who had posted a sterling performance in the ninth and tenth Parliaments, would be elected as House Speaker.
But even before the full-term of the House came to a close, a good number of senators had given indications that they would be seeking other positions, the majority of them going for governor, which suddenly appeared more lucrative due to the millions the county chiefs control.
Senate’s attraction faded suddenly and even the cast aside National Assembly appeared more influential.
Among those who have left the Senate to seek governor positions are Prof Nyong’o (Kisumu), Kiraitu (Meru), Dr Khalwale (Kakamega) Lenny Kivuti (Embu), Stephen Sang (Nandi), Mutahi Kagwe (Nyeri), Mike Sonko (Nairobi), Hassan Omar (Mombasa), John Munyes (Turkana) and Dan Mwazo (Taita Taveta).
Meanwhile, women who had been nominated to the House began eyeing National Assembly positions, among them Majority Whip Beatrice Elachi (Dagoreti North), Martha Wangari (Gilgil), Liza Chelule (Nakuru woman rep), Joy Gwendo (Kisumu Central), and Naisula Lesuuda (Samburu West).
But Senate Leader of Majority Kithure Kindiki (Tharaka Nithi) has dismissed claims that the House has lost its glamour. He describes it as the strategic place to be for those calculating their political moves.
Prof Kindiki said that while in 2013 the roles of the positions created in the Constitution were not well known, the case is different now hence the shift to governor positions for those whose interest is to control resources.
“I opted for the governor’s seat to change the lives of Kakamega residents because the incumbent has failed to develop the county. Kakamega is among the counties that receive the lion’s share of funds from the Exchequer but it has lagged behind in development,” said Khalwale.
But Kindiki argued that Senate retains the dignity of the Upper House and predicted that governors who served their two terms and did not wish to retire in 2022 would be migrating to the House.
He said some of those vying for governors’ positions were politicians who had built their profiles and were largely discontented with the manner in which resources were being managed in their counties.
“As one of the pioneers of devolution, I wanted to ensure that it’s done right. Devolution is not working the way we expected and I am going there to help correct things. It is not because of anything other than the interests of the people of Kisumu,” said Nyong’o.
Mr Omar said he decided to vie for the governorhsip because he felt he understoodd devolution better than the incumbent.
“I want to internalise the objective of devolution and have respect for the participation of the people in any decisions that affect their lives,” he said.
Political analyst Karuti Kanyinga says the Senate will eventually find its true footing after overcoming the transition challenges.
“It is a very strong position. The allure is not gone. With time, I see a situation where many people will be seeking this position once the House fully assumes its role of protecting devolution,” he said.
He added that the perception of a weak Senate was mainly the result of poor leadership, which had ceded ground to the position held by the Council of Governors.
But Macharia Munene of the United States International University sees it differently. He argues that senators have since realised that the position of governor wields more power, largely due to the resources they control, hence their desire to move.
“In 2013, the majority of these senior politicians were misguided as they thought that Kenya’s Senate would be like that of the United States of America,” said Prof Munene.