Parliament opened yesterday here in Kenya and it was a full on circus event from beginning to end. But long before that 2:30 p.m. event, people in Nairobi were talking about what a debacle it could turn out to be. With streets around town being closed, and even my own Association’s meeting being cut short “just in case,” the faith that people had in their elected representatives was growing ever dimmer.
While there was no need for the riot police to be out in such force, everyone’s worst fears were still realized inside the hallowed halls of Parliament where the business of the day – electing the Speaker of the National Assembly – turned into a six hour debacle. The Speaker’s position is important because he can set the legislative agenda and, more importantly, can motion for a vote of no confidence that could result in the dissolution of the government. Most pundits believed this would likely not happen, since the newly elected Members of Parliament (MPs) wouldn’t want to jeopardize their own sweet gigs with the possibility of new elections.
Small insults were on the agenda for the day. From Odinga not standing when President Kibaki entered the room, to that same gentleman somehow forgetting the line about allegiance to the president when he was sworn in as an MP. On the plus side, previous rumours that ODM would sit on the government side of the floor came to naught as they took their proper places on the opposition side. That the PNU MPs reportedly showed up an hour early to take their seats had nothing to do with that, I’m sure.
The biggest initial hurdle was whether or not the vote should take place by secret ballot (as has always been done here) or by show of hands. The fear was that some MPs had been “bought off” by the other side and would not vote along party lines.
After everyone agreed to vote by secret ballot, the next several hours were spent going through three rounds of voting. The final winner was ODM’s Kenneth Marende who beat PNU’s Francis ole Kaparo 105 votes to 101 votes. ODM’s day was officially declared a win when Farah Maalim was voted in as the Deputy Speaker.
Hot on the heels of that six-hour marathon came the news that Kofi Annan would not be coming to help mediate between the two “big men” as he was “sick.” As he was many people’s last hope, news of his illness was worrisome to many Kenyans.
All of that brings us to today which was scheduled to be the first of ODM’s three days of rallies. Despite the fact that the police quickly declared these rallies illegal when they were announced last week, worry about what might happen prompted several businesses, including Hubby’s Organization, to close for the day.
Late last night, plans for a rally seemed dim as rain began to beat down against our corrugated metal/tile roof. And while I might have normally roused myself from bed to check on the inevitable leaks in my roof last night, my first thoughts were for the poor people in Jamhuri Park, many of whom are still sleeping out doors. A slight dripping onto the floor in front of our washroom suddenly seemed a very small and petty thing to be worried about.
The rain finally let up by mid-morning and returned the worry of rallies to the forefront of everyone’s minds. Thus far, despite the huge police presence in town, everything seems rather quiet. I just hope that this calm continues and that the demonstrations that ODM has called for tomorrow and Friday will be cancelled so that the nation can start to heal.