, NAIROBI, October 17 – At the height of election campaigns in 2007, Kenneth Marende was focused on retaining his Emuhaya parliamentary seat, and hoping for an ODM victory that would then see him appointed into the Cabinet.
He won the seat alright, and many would still argue today that the Orange Democratic Movement had won the election. But he is not on the Executive.
Instead, Mr Marende heads a crucial constitutional arm of government – the Legislature.
“I did not plan to become the Speaker (of the National Assembly) but when my party requested me to be ODM’s candidate, I agreed,” he told Capital News.
He won the seat with a narrow margin of 105-101, ending the 15-year reign of Francis ole Kaparo who was fronted by the PNU/ODM Kenya coalition.
Mr Marende became the sixth Speaker of independent Kenya, and the first in a coalition set-up, which immediately proved to be his main challenge. The new Speaker of the National Assembly had to manage a divided House and ensure that members shed their political differences to adopt a nationalist agenda.
“The unique thing that I have to do and which is my main concern is to make the main components of the Grand Coalition to merge on the national agenda,” he says. “I pilot them to ensure there is consensus on the agenda.”
However, he knows that it is a challenge.
“The campaigns before elections were very divisive. That difference between them (MPs) is evident in Parliament, they don’t quite read from the same script,” says the Speaker.
The soft-spoken lawyer however says he is happy that notable progress has been made and his joy is that the members are taking the lead in reconciling and building peace in the country.
“They both say we want a better Kenya, but it looks like the road map is slightly different, the differences are however not as deep as they were in the run up to the elections; there has been so much filling in of the gap between the two sides,” he says.
Looking back at the nine months that he has served as Speaker, Mr. Marende says he is proud of improving the approval ratings of Parliament among the public.
According to a Steadman poll released about four months ago, 75 percent of Kenyans said they trusted the Speaker’s office.
Another report by Gallup also showed that Parliament was performing even better than the Cabinet with 67 percent against 63 percent.
Live coverage of Parliamentary proceedings is also another move that Mr Marende believes has brought Parliament closer to the electorate.
He also believes it will promote transparency and accountability in the way the House conducts its business.
Proposed amendments to the Standing Orders is also another undertaking he says will make the House to move faster in its core function of law making laws and discussing as many sensitive national issues as possible.
The Speaker has special admiration for members of the 10th Parliament, whom he describes as young and enthusiastic in their work.
“There are about 80 percent of new MPs, and most of them have not exceeded the retirement age. Kenyans voted them in because they wanted change, I have a lot of hope and admiration for them because they will deliver to the expectations of Kenya,” he says.
Prior to joining politics in 2007, Mr Marende had practiced law for 29 years. He is deeply involved in philanthropy, having served as a Rotarian in Kilindini for 15 years.
He says besides his busy political career, he still likes to participate in charity activities.
His utmost vision and desire is to see a united Kenya that will forever dwell in peace and heal from the effects of the dark days of early 2008.