Bunge la Mwananchi: New Way to Push for Public Interests

Bunge la Mwananchi has become very influential. The Author indicates that there is very little women participartion in such bunges.

East African Standard, By Ken-Arthur Wekesa, 19 August 2012


One may dismiss them as idlers as they gather along City Hall Way, Nairobi, to discuss trending issues.

But on keen following of their proceedings, something is manifest: They are actively engaging in social, political, and economic discourses pertinent to the heart and soul of the public.

On this particular day, they interrogate the conduct of Independent Electoral Boundaries Commission officials over the controversial Biometric Voter Registration kits tender, suitability of presidential aspirants in line with Chapter Six of the Constitution, Transport Minister Amos Kimunya’s controversial cancellation of a multi-billion shilling airport tender among other issues.

So informed they are that they observe the sub judice principle of not discussing suspended Deputy Chief Justice Nancy Baraza’s case, as it is a matter for the court’s adjudication.

Live debates

Their gatherings have adopted structures of the Legislature. They have a ‘Speaker’ who moderates the debate whose eye ‘MPs’ must capture to contribute.

There is also the ‘sergeant-at-arm’ whose work is to walk out unruly ‘MPs’ from the ‘House’. Indeed it is Bunge La Mwananchi (People’s Parliament).

It is not just restricted to Nairobi city, Bunge La Mwananchi has mushroomed in other parts of the country as well.

In Mombasa, there is one prominent gathering along the busy road that leads to Moi International Airport christened Bunge La Wazi Kwa Hola. There is also one near Eldoret post office, and another at the Kitale main bus station.

In Nakuru, there are a number of Bunge La Mwananchi assemblies near Telcom Building, Merica Hotel, Ogilgei Hotel, City Inn Butchery, and Utugi Club.

Similarly, there exists Bunge La Mwananchi in various spots in Kakamega town.

Joseph Magutt, a political scientist, says such gatherings are a clear indication that Kenyans are politically alert. “Kenyans are political animals if I have to borrow from the words of Aristotle, the philosopher. That is why they are actively engaged in the political processes to the extent that they hold Bunge La Mwananchi, borrowing from formal structures of the Legislature,” Magutt says.

He adds such assemblies indicate the moral maturity of the populace as they use their free time meaningfully. Mike Odhiambo, an avid member of Bunge La Mwananchi in Nakuru, says whereas sharp differences among members over an issue sometimes emerges, they are ironed ought amicably without raising a fist.

Edward Kisianga’ni of Kenyatta University says Bunge La Mwananchi is indeed a protest voice against the actual Legislature for the incurable transgressions like watering down the Integrity Bill.

“Whereas they don’t have the legislative capacity to influence policy, theirs is to decry the misrepresentation by elected leaders by sensitising their audiences and in a way, influencing those the electorate should vote for,” he says.

A check by The Standard in selected parts of the country on these alternatives to the official National Assembly indicates males predominantly attend such gatherings. Women are a handful if any, which brings into focus their involvement amid perceptions women, have historically been marginalised in political discourses.

“The solitary reason you find few women in informal gatherings discussing politics is because Kenya, like many African democracies, is a highly patriarchal society,” says Fibian Lukalo, a communication lecturer at Moi University.

Lukalo says the repeal of Section 2A of the old order, which had made Kenya a one party State is what has ostensibly informed the mushrooming of Bunge La Mwananchi.

He says women have historically engaged indirectly in the political process. She says: “It was Rosa Park’s decision not to give up her seat to a white person in a bus that catalysed the black movement cause against racial segregation in the US.”

Giant strides

Richard Bosire of the University of Nairobi says Bunge La Mwananchi illustrates the giant strides Kenya’s constitutional democracy has made in terms of political maturity. The don further observes that they are tools of civic education, as the moderators and conveners of such meetings are sources of information in themselves, having acquainted themselves with news and what is circulate in the social media.

On gender disparity, the don says whereas such informal gatherings are bereft of womenfolk, it does not mean they don’t sip from the cup of political engagement.

“There are more women registered pressure groups than those by men and it is through such that they wield influence,” says Dr Bosire who agrees with Dr Lukalo that women’s participation in political matters is sometimes indirect.

The content of their discussions vary from one gathering to the other. Geographical location, level of education of participants, ethnicity among other demographics influences the debate. In Nairobi, which is more cosmopolitan with more informed participants, there are debates of national issues compared to those in homogeneous settings where they debate local issues and sometimes in vernacular.

The fact that what Bunge La Mwananchi spends quality time discussing, including goofs of the political class, never influences policy begs the question of just how exactly they can be heard loud and clear.

Pundits say there are mechanisms thy can use to influence action from the policy makers.

“One of the ways to prompt higher action is to have Bunge La Mwananchi engage civil society groups whose activities are well structured. They may engage sitting MPs to sponsor a Bill on the floor of Parliament that resonates with their concerns.” says Magutt. Bosire agrees: “They ought to formalise their existence, liaise with pressure and lobby groups to get funding to bolster results.”


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