Bunge la Mwananchi, the people’s parliament, where prefiguration comes to life…

Bunge La Mwananchi or the people’s Parliament in Kenya is a living proof of pre-figurative politics. Gacheke Gachici, member of Bunge La Mwananchi in his talk about the parliament showed how adamant they were about living ‘now’ the reality they want to see in the future. From further readings, I have learned that the people’s parliament came to being as a result of political opening in the early 90s which ended one party rule and reinstated multi-party politics. Such opening encouraged movements to surface and activists disenchanted with the deteriorating economic conditions and the expansion of neo-liberal policies to come together to fight for social justice. However, the interesting part was how the people’ parliament (originally launched under the name ‘kafiri’ movement) didn’t intend to address the state or capitalize on this political opening to engage with formal politics. The intent from the beginning was to reject and challenge how power operates in the country. The political opening was seen as an opportunity to reclaim public space and create an open platform for political education on colonial history, Kenyan liberation movements and social/economic rights, yet from a critical lens to existing/dominant discourses. It was an intent endeavor to overhaul existing power structures refusing to engage within its borders.

As a prefigurative process, the end goal wasn’t clear or pre-determined and kept evolving. The refusal grew into the people’s parliament with several chapters in different cities where all people were invited to participate irrespective of tribe, gender, social class or religion to discuss their current realities, question the immutability of these realities and think of ways to challenge them. Ironically, the more political opening took place, the more determination the people’ parliament had for reclaiming their space and living their reality now away from formal establishment. Gacheke explained it by the failure of the seemingly reformist National Rainbow Coalition Kenya (NARC) to create any drastic change after coming to power in 2003. According to the movement, the coalition was coopted by the system where they faced allegations of corruption, engaged in patronage politics and failed to create any change.

As prefiguration would inform us, this resistance to engage within the formal establishment create its own challenges. For instance, the People’ parliament faces funding challenges especially when they insist rightfully on staying away from what the movement call “the euro dollar chaser” industry.  Also, they face attempts of cooptation or as power always tends to centralize, some of its members wanted to claim leadership and direct the people’s parliament hierarchically. Yet, prefiguration as a form of politics seemed capable to address some of these challenges. Gacheke mentioned for instance how people resisted any attempt to challenge the horizontality of the space by simply moving away from any leader who would want to claim authority and automatically restarting their discussions on equal basis.

In brief, the people’ parliament is an inspiring experience to show how people can build commitment to a different process that aims to change the rules of the game rather than remain stuck in pre-structured frameworks and playgrounds of exclusions. Such driving force and commitment made me undoubtedly wonder whether in Egypt, revolutionary groups rushed the process of Tahrir square thinking they had to engage with old parameters of politics. This wondering even gets stronger when the people’s parliament tells us, you can also maintain your process while strategically and selectively join forces with sympathetic movements and parties who are engaged in formal politics, overcoming this risk of being an ‘irrelevant utopia’.

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