Banana or orange? Those were the two choices in the constitutional referendum in Kenya on Nov. 21, 2005. Banana for “yes,” orange for “no.”
That’s one of the funny details that have stuck with me ever since I first visited Kenya 12 years ago. I had the privilege of observing the constitutional referendum firsthand, and watched the beginning of a remarkably successful partnership between the Kenyan Parliament and the U.S. House of Representatives.
I returned to Kenya in 2006 with then-Rep. David Dreier (R-Calif.) and Rep. David Price (D-N.C.) as part of the newly founded House Democracy Partnership (HDP) to forge a formal partnership between the U.S. House and the Kenyan Parliament.
The HDP, now led by Rep. Peter Roskam (R-Ill.) and Price, is a bipartisan initiative supporting the development of independent legislatures around the world by providing technical assistance at the request of partner legislatures.
This partnership brings together legislators and staff from 21 partner legislatures to build relationships, provide guidance on strengthening legislative institutions and processes, as well as responsiveness to citizen needs. In order to qualify as an HDP partner, candidate countries must prove that they have the desire and ability to develop basic institutions and create a strong and free legislative branch.Kenya was one of the first countries to be named a full partner with HDP in 2006. Since then, five HDP delegations have traveled to Kenya, and numerous exchange programs and trainings have taken place in the U.S. Capitol and Kenya’s Parliament in Nairobi.
A little more than a decade later, Kenyan democracy has continued to make extraordinary progress. In fact, Kenya has become an HDP regional mentor for partners like Liberia.
When I visited Kenya earlier this month to conduct consultations on behalf of HDP and the International Republican Institute, I was struck by the way in which the country has remained committed to democracy — and how valuable exchanges like HDP can be. During one of the sessions, a man named Kipkemoi Kirui approached me, whom I immediately recognized from HDP’s first visit to Kenya in 2006 and additional HDP exchanges. Kipkemoi is now the principal clerk assistant of the National Assembly, the lower house of Parliament.
Kipkemoi and many others like him aren’t just putting what they learned into practice; they’re also teaching the younger generation the lessons they learned. Our active and involved network of former participants are expanding the goals of HDP to all 21 partners — countries including Burma, Colombia, Tunisia and Ukraine.
HDP continues to strengthen democracies worldwide by encouraging member legislatures to provide responsive and effective policy for their citizens, demonstrating the enduring value of this unique and worthwhile partnership.