Wycliffe Muga: Why MPS are no longer respected - The Star

Over the past few years, I have found it very difficult to convince most Kenyans I talk to that Parliament is not populated solely by ogres and snakes as they seem to imagine.

And my suggestion that most MPs I have met are actually very agreeable men and women, who have a serious intention of serving their country, has invariably been met with sneers.

For it would seem the average Kenyan regards the average MP as a self-serving monster, who is not worthy of the high office they hold. And if you tell them that all these people, by and large, were validly elected by the voters in their constituencies, they will say the electors made a mistake.

Now when a clear majority of citizens hold such opinions of the MPs and have such deep-seated contempt for people whom they have never met or spoken to, it is worth asking how this came to be.

For it has not always been so. Back in the Moi era, many MPs, and in particular those who had the courage to speak out against the government, were widely regarded as heroes. These included veterans such as Martin Shikuku and Waruru Kanja and firebrands such as Koigi Wamwere, James Orengo and the late George Anyona.

These were men who would be promptly surrounded by ecstatic crowds if they but showed up in any public place.

Now you find most Kenyans will describe their local MP as hopeless or useless and are also no less dismissive of MPs for constituencies they have never even visited.

How did it come to this?

Well, it seems to me that this drastic collapse of Kenyans' confidence in MPs is to a large extent linked to two developments which took place over the past decade or so.

The first is the increase in MPs salaries by an astronomical percentage, as well as the coming of the Constituency Development Fund just about the time when the Moi era came to an end in 2002.

The second is the revolution in personal as well as communal communication, through the rapid spread in the use of personal mobile phones, simultaneous with the spread of FM radio stations both in national and vernacular services.

Basically, what happened is that with those huge salaries and the CDF, for the first time, no MP could plead that he had been denied development by the government of the day, because he had spoken truth to power.

And thanks to the effect of FM stations and their ubiquitous talk shows, and the mobile phones, ordinary Kenyans are now very well informed of what their MPs are up to.

They know very well how much money the MP has at his disposal, and also have a pretty exaggerated idea of what their share of it should be. And whereas the Moi-era MPs who earned about Sh150,000 could persuasively argue that they had no surplus funds for fundraisers, nobody is willing to accept that argument now that they earn about Sh800,000.

In short, where previously an MP was seen as someone who had to go out and struggle to get some small slice of development for his people, the voters suddenly began to consider the MP as someone who had already been given all the development available for their corner of the country.

So they not only feel entitled to such material progress as can be delivered through the CDF and the Bursary Fund, but they even consider the MPs' huge salary as, essentially, their money.

With expectations running rampant, it is impossible to listen to any of the regional vernacular FM radio stations and hear anything other than a bitter contempt directed at any elected leader.

The only exceptions seem to be those high-profile Cabinet ministers with supposed presidential ambitions, who have carved for themselves a role as regional flag bearers.

But even these have as many enemies as they have friends.

And with hindsight, all this was inevitable really the kind of informed assessments which in the past were only available to the elite within the media are now the daily fare in millions of modest homes across the country.

This makes it difficult to sustain the old image of MPs as remote godlike figures. And as most of their voters do not get to socialise with their MPs to see that they are really very likeable, the image of the MP as a greedy and unprincipled rogue easily takes root.

Wycliffe Muga comments on topical issues.

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