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Why Parliament’s departmental committees should be aligned to Kenya’s economic foreign policy


Kenya’s Parliament has existed since August 17, 1906, when it held its first seating, then known as the Legislative Council of Kenya, anchored in the Westminster parliamentary model, at the time clearly set out to represent British citizens under the colonial government who were farmers, missionaries, civil servants and business people.

The first black African to be nominated by the then governor of the Colony and Protectorate, Sir Philip Euen Mitchell, was Eliud Wambu Mathu (aged 34) in 1943, with Arab and Indian representatives also included. Prior to 1964 the only existing committee was known as the Standing Committee and the role of members of Parliament then was limited to reacting and reviewing business as determined by the Executive, with limitations in advancing the public interest, almost making it a branch of the Executive.

Further marginalisation of Parliament would follow with the rise of the imperial presidency and developments such as the de facto one party state (1964-1969) and the abolition of the Senate in 1967. This was to change course with the establishment of the Parliamentary Service Commission and Parliamentary Service in the years 1999-2000, allowing Parliament to engage in the development of its institutions.


A significant reform made by the 10th Parliament (2008-2012) was the enactment of the Fiscal Management Act, which introduced the Budget Policy Statement (BPS) requiring that the minister for Finance table the policy in Parliament by March 21 of every year. The Act and consequent legislation required the minister to publish every month in the Kenya Gazette the actual revenues and actual exchequer releases to ministries and government departments; created a Budget Committee and Parliamentary Budget Office as its secretariat to provide timely and non-partisan economic and budgetary information to the National Assembly; gave Parliament the power to amend the Executive budget proposal and reallocate resources to other programmes viewed as necessary by the public; and entrenched public participation in the budget process.

As observed, the one time non-existent departmental committees would be created in line with the country’s needs and were continuously improved to enhance participation, transparency and accountability. While the origins of the Defense and Foreign Relations Committee would be justified during its formation, it should be revised to fit its purpose and in line with the Executive’s structure, being that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade.


Economic diplomacy has been emphasised by the Presidency in his meetings both at home and abroad. Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Monica Juma, during the Cabinet vetting process, mentioned restructuring at the ministry to have ambassadors appointed to champion further the economic and commerce interests of the country.

To highlight this need, the March 21 historic signing of the Continental Free Trade Area envisioning the creation of one African market puts Kenya at an advantage due to its large manufacturing bases. However, for the agreement to come into effect Parliament will first have to ratify it, and we have a little more than three months remaining in the 120-day period given. Noteworthy is that Nairobi has hosted the World Trade Organization (WTO) 10th Ministerial Conference (December 2015) and the 14th session of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD XIV), a clear demonstration that the Foreign Affairs and International Trade agenda are to be matched.

Other factors are as evidenced by the 2018 Fiscal Budget Policy, which identifies the current global risks and developments that would affect the economic growth of the country as the US trade and economic policies, the Brexit outcome, growth rates in India and China and normalisation of the monetary policies in advanced economies. At the continental level, South Africa’s and Nigeria’s growth in exports as well as policy uncertainties could shape aspects of growth. At the East Africa level, political tensions in Burundi, Somalia and South Sudan constrain regional economic activity while GDP growth in Uganda, Tanzania and Rwanda contribute to the stable macroeconomic environment.


The effectiveness of the Defense and Foreign Relations Committee can be strengthened by realignment to meet the current needs of the Foreign Policy being economic. The function of Defense could easily be merged with the current Administration and National Security Committee to form the departmental committee on Administration and National Security Strategy. The function of Trade in the departmental committee on Finance, Planning and Trade Committee could be transferred to the Foreign Relations Committee for complete harmonisation of principals, focus and leadership.

This will create the departmental committee of Foreign Affairs and International Trade. Other additional considerations to be made would include the introduction of the submission of the Annual Foreign Policy Statement to be discussed in Parliament to expand understanding among the backbenchers and the public on the importance of the foreign policy agenda of the government. Going even deeper, Parliament could enact legislation to have public participation in the foreign policymaking process, observing the spirit of the Constitution.

The Irish Assembly and principle legislative chamber, Dáil Éireann, would be a benchmarking case, noting the effectiveness of the investments agenda in the Foreign Policy Agenda, which revolves around tourism and information and communication technology, making it the fastest-growing economy in Europe.

The writer is the managing director of the Centre for International and Security Affairs, a think tank based in Nairobi.