Kenya Prepares for International Parliaments Assembly

By Cathy Majtenyi
30 March 2006

Kenyan officials Thursday launched preparations for an international assembly of parliaments to be held in Nairobi in May. This is the first time the assembly will be held in East Africa.

More than 1,500 members and other officials from parliaments around the world are scheduled to converge in Nairobi from May 7 to May 12.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly is expected to focus on the role of parliament in three areas: controlling the flow of small arms, light weapons, and ammunition; managing the environment; and combating violence and discrimination against women.

Kenya's speaker of the national assembly, Francis ole Kaparo, told those attending Thursday's launch ceremony how Kenya and the surrounding region would particularly benefit from the arms and environment discussions.

"We've been victims as a nation of the uncontrolled influx of small arms into Kenya because of what is happening in our neighborhood... Right now we are going through one of the most unprecedented droughts in the history of this nation," said Ole Kaparo. "I suspect the destruction of the environment has everything to do with it."

Kenyan member of parliament Beth Mugo told the gathering she is pleased that, for the first time in the Inter-Parliamentary Union Assembly's history, all members, not just a sideline caucus, will discuss the plight of women.

Mugo tells VOA discussions are expected to include what parliaments can do about violence against women and alleviating women's poverty.

"I think the world, and parliament being the policymakers, have realized we have to put women center stage if we have to get where we want this world to get," she said.

Mugo told the gathering it is vital that women be adequately represented in parliaments. She pointed to Rwanda and Sweden as being two of a few countries where more than 33 percent of the parliamentary seats and ministerial posts are held by women.

"It is a far cry, of course, in our country [Kenya], where we only have 7.1 percent of women representation in this parliament, and a dismal 0.05 percent in the cabinet," said Mugo. "It's a shame."

She said almost 49 percent of Rwanda's parliament is comprised of women, almost 24 percent of Uganda's parliament are women, and women occupy 33 percent of South Africa's parliament.

The Inter-Parliamentary Union, established in 1889, brings together 140 national parliaments worldwide to discuss world peace and the establishment of transparent, representative good governance.

The organization normally has two assemblies a year, one in Geneva and one in a host country. Six assemblies have been held in Africa, but never in East Africa until now.