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Nairobi – ‘ Green City in the Sun’

The city has an interesting history having replaced Mombasa as the capital of the British East Africa Protectorate in 1905.

Nairobi was granted city status in 1954. Kenyan independence from Britain was achieved in 1963 and Nairobi became the capital of the Republic of Kenya. After independence the city grew rapidly.

The 56th Annual General Meeting of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association was held in the Kenyan International Conference Centre, five minutes walk from our hotel, the Sarova Stanley which claims such important guests as Queen when she was on her honeymoon as Princess Elizabeth. Hemingway also stayed there.

The conference was opened by the President of Kenya (Mwai Kibaki) and was followed by a plenary session which focussed on the recent turbulent events in Kenya and the hope of the respective parliamentarians for the future.

Much emphasis was placed on the new constitution which was adopted on 27 August 2010, three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum. The adoption of the constitution has heralded the Second Republic of Kenya, as well as creating a great deal of optimism for securing peace in the future. Elections to new political institutions will take place in 2012.

A radical and wide-ranging report drawn up by the Parliamentary Electoral Commission forms the basis of future elections and how they are to be conducted.

The judiciary is to be radically overhauled and this was making big news in the daily newspapers that were on sale on the streets.

The constitution guarantees rights to each individual covering all aspects of life. However, while welcoming the adoption of the new constitution, speakers also noted that adoption in itself would accomplish nothing and that it would have to be implemented in its entirety to be a success.

Delegates heard about the outbreak of violence which had occurred in late December 2007 at the time of the last elections and which had led to the death of at least one thousand people (many more some argued) and had caused the displacement of 600,000 people. Some of these have since been resettled.

There were demands for inquiries into state violence but this was not developed to any degree. Nevertheless it appeared to be a real issue.

The key outcome of the session was a recognition that peace building was of paramount importance delivered by political ability and leadership. The causes of social and economic exclusion would have to be identified and this would mean the government going out to talk to people. With a population of 48 million inhabitants made up of 45 tribes this was accepted as a mammoth task but, nevertheless, of critical importance.

There was heavy emphasis on developing partnership government. Coalition government in itself was not seen as a complete solution to the complex problems which affect Kenya and its people.

Several parliamentarians spoke of the need to work to prevent another outbreak of violence, to interact with the people on a continuous basis and to ensure that sweeping changes in the judiciary are fully implemented.

The election itself could mean as many as eight ballot papers and this would demand a lot of education among the voters. Electronic voting has been proposed but this is not final as there are clearly serious problems achieving this method.

This session was very interesting and demonstrated many parallels with Northern Ireland with the exception of the existence of 45 tribes and, of course a population of 48 million inhabitants!

There were a number of regional meetings and I attended the one relevant to Northern Ireland where reports from the branches were presented. Difficult issues which the CPA is facing were also discussed. These appear to be quite serious.

The following two days were taken up with visits to various places of interest in Kenya. I chose to go to Mombasa and was glad that Paul Gill was also on the flight.

A reception was given by the Port Authority in Mombasa. We learned that 800,000 containers are handled every year with plans to increase the volume to 1.2 million containers. It is clear that the port expects growth to continue to be considerable as East Africa continues to develop its infrastructure and economy.

The area we stopped over in was tourist-orientated with beaches which must be among the most beautiful in the world. A hotel employee told me, however, that as a result of the unrest tourism figures had dropped by 80 per cent with the government establishing ‘Tourist Police’ to try and rebuilt confidence in the industry.

Delegates were taken to a nature reserve which was developed from an old coral mine. The emphasis was on regeneration of the area and this appeared to be working. Among the animals on show were crocodiles and a tortoise which was reputed to be 150 years old. Its poor back was shiny with so many people posing for photographs. The crocodiles didn’t have shiny backs!

The following two days were spent back in Nairobi with a wide range of workshops. These included the Role of Parliament in Peace Building, the Global Water and Food Crisis, Energy and the Environment, Parliament, Accountability and the Role of Internet Governance in Strengthening Oversight.

Other workshops addressed issues relating to facilitating Grassroots Projects, the Protection of Migrant Workers, Natural Disaster Management and a few others relating the specific role of the CPA and issues facing it.

At the final plenary session the delegates were addressed by the Speaker of the House of Commons who announced that the 57 th Annual Conference would be held in London over 8 days beginning on 21 July 2011.

During the week I engaged informally with various people including the delegation from the United Kingdom who were eager to improve the format of the conference and allow delegates greater opportunities to network with other countries. I agreed entirely because this was the main reason why I put my bid in to go. These opportunities were not freely available although I did briefly meet the sole delegate from Malawi, a country which I have a particular interest in given that my wife was in Malawi while I was in Kenya. She remains there for another three weeks and reports from her clearly show that there is much to be gained from forming linkages with developing countries. This view was strongly held by many that I spoke to but in each discussion it was agreed that it must be clearly understood that the process has to be two-way with developed countries knowing what they want to achieve from linkages with developing countries. This could, for example, be a greater appreciation of our care of the environment where there are good examples in Kenya.

I am grateful for the opportunity to represent Northern Ireland at the above conference where I met many wonderful people who do not experience equality as it exist in other part of the world. Nevertheless I saw people, particularly in the hotels and conference centres, who were highly professional, extremely well presented and well capable of representing their country in a very positive way if there is the political will to achieve those aims.

I also saw a great deal of poverty both in Nairobi but particularly in Mombasa and it is difficult to see what can be done if these people do not get the help they need. Many were running their own little enterprises but the conditions were appalling.

The future of the CPA was discussed at various times and there are deep-held concerns about that. Many questions are being asked as to what needs to be done to ensure that the various former British colonies and other Commonwealth countries work in harmony and in partnership to build a better world where economies thrive and opportunities continually arise to permit economic partnerships between the different nations. In one workshop which I attended there were very interesting presentations from Canada and India which work very well together in partnerships. The Canadian delegate was keen to discover many more.

John Dallat

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