Mzalendo is a volunteer run project whose mission is to “keep an eye on the Kenyan Parliament.” The project was started by two young like-minded Kenyans who were frustrated by the fact that it is difficult to hold Kenyan Members of Parliament (MPs) accountable for their performance largely because information about their work in Parliament is not easily accessible. In our opinion Parliament should be one of the most open institutions in government, yet beyond the coverage from local newspapers it is virtually impossible to keep track of what Kenyan Parliamentarians are doing. Of course one can peruse copies of the Hansard, but one has to go through an arduous process to get access to Hansard copies from the Government Printer’s Office and most people do not have the time to filter through the dense information that is contained in the Hansard hard copies.
Mzalendo is a project that evolved out of several concerns. First, it is very difficult to get information about what Kenyan Members of Parliament are doing when in Parliament. Though the Hansard offers a verbatim transcript of Parliamentary proceedings it is not widely circulated or accessible. In addition, even if one could get access to the Hansard, extracting relevant information can be time consuming. Furthermore, there is virtually no way of knowing what government business is being conducted in Parliament; for instance, the contents of draft bills are rarely publicized. Second, the Kenyan government is still very much a “closed society” — the default de facto presumption is that the public does not have a right know unless they have special permission. The fact that the official Parliament website is still shut down after an uproar from some MPs who were upset that their resumes were available online is a testament to this. By focusing on one of the major government institutions that should be the most accessible, Mzalendo aims to both “open” up Parliament and demonstrate that it is both possible and necessary for Kenyans to demand and expect more accountability from public institutions. Third, by relying on technology and the Internet, Mzalendo hopes to be especially accessible to young Kenyans. Young people will soon represent the largest voting bloc in Kenya and we believe that it is important to both get them engaged in public participation in ways that are appealing to them and give them the tools that will facilitate this engagement. In the near future, the site will offer interactive features including a discussion board, individual constituency blogs, and an opportunity to ask your MP questions and get a response online.
OSI (in the past), Omidyar Network