GACHURI’S PUNCHLINE: Senators, where is the honour?

This week in the Senate, something very strange and unusual happened. It was the first, in my many years of covering and following proceedings in the Senate to see it happen. There were primary school children from Kirinyaga and Murang’a counties who were seated at the Speaker’s gallery, following proceedings in the August House. I am sure they were looking forward to the trip; to witness first-hand what the honourable Senators do in Nairobi.

Unfortunately, the Wednesday sitting was not exactly what we would want our children treated to. The Senators were in a foul mood, brawling over the changes in the minority team announced a week ago, during a Parliamentary Group meeting attended by Azimio leader Raila Odinga. The key change being the removal of Isiolo Senator Fatuma Dullo from the lucrative Senate Minority Whip position.

To avoid the embarrassment of primary school pupils watching a dishonourable quarrel between Majority and Minority Senators, the Sergeant-at-Arms had to escort the children out of the Senate building. That, ladies and gentlemen, is what really worried me. I was perturbed because even in the Roman empire, where the Senate concept originated, such a House would comprise ‘the elders’ and therefore was considered wiser and more experienced members of the society or the ruling class. But there was nothing wise or experienced in the shouting contest we all witnessed Wednesday afternoon. That is why I was deeply disturbed.

In developed democracies, the Senate has the duty of holding the country together in times of crisis. This is because its members are expected to be more experienced, thoughtful and grounded. And the Senate is not a place of noise. Wise people don’t make noise. They reason together. They agree to disagree, with decorum and order.

For the record, let me say I have a soft spot for the Senate. Over the years, I have found debates in the Senate mature, thought provoking, analytical and with historical context. The profile of the Senate in the 11th and 12th Parliaments has given flashes of maturity and experience. We cannot accuse the Senate of lacking in quality in the last 10 years. The quality of debate in the Senate has been markedly different from the discourse in the National Assembly. We must give credit where it is due. The Senate has often oozed experience and class.

The last two Senates have produced men and women of high calibre; I am talking about the likes of Moses Wetangula, James Orengo, Amos Wako, Mutahi Kagwe, Kipchumba Murkomen, Prof. Kithure Kindiki to mention but a few. Even the current Majority Leader Aaron Cheruiyot has acquitted himself well in the last two Houses. The 13th Senate has equally good quality lawmakers, but the Wednesday afternoon events left a bitter taste in the mouth.

The quality of the Senate has also been reflected in the calmness and restraint of the speakers. David Ekwe Ethuro and Ken Lusaka guided the House despite the many challenges. Today, looking at the Wednesday situation, we remember the two Speakers for their warm demeanour, they wore their robes well. They fitted well in those honoured clothes. I am not sure I can’t say the same yet, for the current Speaker, but may be time will acquit him.

What am I saying? The Senate has often insisted that it was the Upper House. The events that brawl over the minority leadership shows nothing upper in the Senate. It was actually a low moment. The street like brawl smelt of dishonour and disgrace, and even the Senators conceded yesterday afternoon, when some sense prevailed. The conduct around the dispatch box in the Senate this week has been way below the standards of an Upper House.

That notwithstanding, I remain a big fun of the Senate. I hope maseneta hawataniangusha tena. Having misbehaved early in their term, I hope they will recollect themselves and truly be the Upper House that the Senate ought to be!

That’s my punchline!


Senate Azimio Majority Fatuma Dullo Minority

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