Opinion  :: Columns  :: Nairobi Notebook


The politics of regional representation
Eric Ombok
Published: 10-OCT-06

Kenyan politicians are a quarrelsome and garrulous lot and will lose no opportunity to rise to the occasion — bickering.

The latest bone of contention is the nomination of members to the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) by Kenyan political parties.

EALA is the independent legislative arm of the East African Community (EAC). EALA had its first sitting in Arusha, Tanzania on November 29, 2001 when Abdulrahman Kinana of Tanzania was unanimously elected Speaker.

There are 27 elected members of EALA, nine from each partner state, and five ex-officio members. The five ex-officio members comprise three ministers, one from each partner state who are responsible for regional cooperation, the secretary general and the counsel to the community.

Members are indirectly elected in the sense that they are elected by their respective national assemblies, although not from within the ranks of the national assemblies. In the formula adopted in the Treaty establishing the EAC, it is required that the members so elected do represent a diversity of views in their national assemblies.

In the case of Kenya, political parties with a certain number of elected members of parliament are eligible to nominate an agreed number of members to EALA depending on how many members it has in the country’s national assembly.

After all the eligible parties nominate their representatives to EALA, the Kenyan national assembly then votes to approve the names forwarded to it. However, this is not as simple as it sounds because firstly, some of the current EALA members were nominated by political parties, which are now defunct or not eligible to nominate members this time round.

In addition, new parties have come on the scene and some of them, like FORD-PEOPLE, are eligible to make nominations to the Assembly. Further, the current government comprises a coalition, whose key members are the Democratic Party of Kenya, the Liberal Democratic Party of Kenya, FORD-KENYA and the National Party of Kenya.

When it comes to momentous issues like nomination of members to EALA, most of these political parties don’t see eye to eye, which leads to protracted negotiations, accompanied by loud noise.

The East African Community (EAC) member Presidents of Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania are scheduled to meet in the Tanzanian town of Arusha to oversee the swearing-in of the new members of the East African Legislative Assembly. The EAC meeting is scheduled to take place on November 30, 2006.

The major task for the new legislature will be to handle matters regarding the fast tracking of the East African Political Federation, which is expected to be operational by 2010.

As the legislative arm of the community, with oversight functions on all matters that fall within the community’s work, the Assembly has a very wide ambit. This is reflected in the scope of the mandate of the Standing Committees that handle the substantive work of the Assembly.

As elected representatives of the people of East Africa, the Assembly has recognised the role it can play in linking the community and its governance organs with the peoples of East Africa.

To this end the Assembly has visited various parts of East Africa to publicise the Community and its work, and to familiarise themselves with the conditions, resources and challenges of the people of the region.

The seven standing committees are Accounts, Agriculture, Tourism and Natural Resources, General Purpose, House Business, Legal, Rules and Privileges, Regional Affairs and Conflict Resolution, and Trade Communication and Investment. The composition and leadership of each of these committees is equally shared among the partner states.

Since its inauguration, EALA has held several sittings as a Plenary in Arusha, Kampala and Nairobi. During these sittings, EALA has among other things approved the budgets for EAC for the 2002/2003 and 2003/2004 financial years, asked the Council of Ministers 19 questions, which were duly answered, adopted five resolutions, held seminars on a wide range of issues in relation to their mandate, and passed six Bills into law.

The committees have continuously been briefed from the Secretariat and given advice with regard to progress in the implementation of the Treaty and initiated and scrutinised Bills referred to them.

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