Parliament,Public Service and Partnership- Kenya

This speech was published under the 2010 to 2015 Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government

The British High Commissioner was speaking during the induction retreat for Members of the National Assembly.

Mtukufu Rais, waziri, mheshimiwa, mabibi na mabwana, habarai za asubuhi. Nimefurahi kuwa hapa.

I am honoured to be joining you at this induction retreat, to discuss how we can work together for an effective and efficient legislature under Kenya’s new constitution.

The people and Government of the United Kingdom wholeheartedly support this agenda. Among the international dignitaries joining this induction are two distinguished members from the UK’s Parliament, Lord Steel of Aikwood, President of the Africa APPG and former Presiding Officer of the Scottish Parliament, and James Duddridge MP, Chair of the Africa APPG. They will share lessons from Commonwealth Legislatures and I hope you will have frank and productive exchanges with them.

Britain is also a core funder of this programme. We see the tradition of parliamentary democracy as vital to our international interests and are proud to have supported the State University of New York’s Parliamentary Strengthening Programme for the past 6 years. This investment is worth £4.6m (Ksh630m) and is an indication of the importance we attach to our relationship with Kenya.

Ladies and Gentlemen, I note that the next speaker is my friend and colleague the American Ambassador. So I will refrain from commenting on the fact that the ground-breaking 2010 Constitution moved Kenya from a British Parliamentary model towards an American system of government.

But in all seriousness the bicameral tradition that you are part of is a remarkable one. As we review that tradition, I draw three conclusions that are relevant to us today.

First, is that the development of an effective legislature is a process that does not happen overnight. Even though the Palace of Westminster has been the centre of democratic power in the UK for over 900 years, it is still very much a work in progress. Continuity has not meant rigidity. The British debate about reform to our parliamentary system goes on, including the role of the second chamber and the function of devolved parliaments. Both chambers still consider how to have distinctive roles, and how best to hold the Executive to account.

Expectations for Kenya’s new system are high. I often remind people that it has taken us a great many years to implement devolution in Britain; and that we have been making our constitution up for 200 years and still haven’t written it down. So as well as supporting the ambition perhaps we should also be saying “haraka haraka haina baraka”!

The second conclusion I draw from the Parliamentary tradition is the importance of public service. I am thinking of figures like William Wilberforce, the great anti-slavery campaigner. Wilberforce spent his Parliamentary career fighting for something which most of his contemporaries never believed would come to pass. Having spent forty years campaigning he died just three days after the Abolition of Slavery Act passed in 1833.

We British are also fond of quoting another great Parliamentarian, Winston Churchill. Churchill captured the art of the put down and used his wit in the Chamber to great effect. My favourite is his exchange with a lady who was angered by his behaviour. She told him “Mr Churchill, if I was your wife I would put poison in your tea”. Quick as a flash Churchill replied “Madam, if I was your husband I would drink it”.

But Churchill also famously said: “I have nothing to offer you but blood, sweat and tears”. It is Parliamentarians such as these who showed wisdom in adapting to changing circumstances. Who provided level-headed leadership and knew that change takes patience, persistence as well as perspiration. And who knew that you are judged as much for what you are as what you do.

The third conclusion I draw from our Parliamentary tradition is the way in which the legislature can become the voice of the whole nation. Britain’s Parliament became bicameral so as to represent different interests. In our case this meant the interests of the aristocracy and clergy on one side, which became the House of Lords, and the so-called common people on the other, which became the House of Commons.

Edmund Burke, British political theorist, philosopher and statesman said it well in a speech in 1774. He said “Parliament is a deliberative assembly of one nation, with one interest, that of the whole; where, not local purposes, not local prejudices, ought to guide, but the general good, resulting from the general reason of the whole”.

In conclusion, I know that Kenya will find its own distinctive solutions to these complex questions. But I would like to emphasise that the United Kingdom’s support for your National Assembly is a good example of the deep and abiding partnership between our two countries. We are bound together by strong and historic ties that benefit both our countries. The statistics are familiar: we are the second largest bilateral donor to Kenya, contributing £130m a year (KSh17bn) by 2014. The UK is home to half the top 10 tax-paying companies in the country. We are Kenya’s second biggest export market after Uganda, with total trade in excess of £1bn (Ksh130bn). I have committed to double that by 2017. We work closely together on security and stability; and more visitors come to Kenya from Britain than from any other country. I am determined to do my part to support the President’s goal for expanding tourism, and have pledged to increase our number of visitors.

Honourable members, today the Britain-Kenya relationship is a modern one. It is based on mutual respect, partnership and shared interests. The colonial era has passed. To talk of foreign interference, who needs each other more, or of East versus West is to miss the point. In the multi-polar world we are interrelated and our interests are intertwined.

It is right that as we mark Kenya’s 50th Jubilee year of independence, we celebrate the past and look to the opportunity of the future. The ability to learn from our past is a hallmark of our democracy, as I hope our historic settlement with Mau Mau veterans showed. History teaches us that you cannot have lasting peace without justice, accountability and reconciliation.

This is a moment of great opportunity and excitement for the people of Kenya and for you as legislators, as you strive to fulfil the promise of the Constitution, implement Vision 2030 and make devolution a reality. The United Kingdom will continue to do all that we can to support the people of Kenya in achieving these goals. I wish you all the best of luck during your deliberations and debates over the next few days.