Both the old and the proposed constitution in Kenya deserve a strong NO vote! They both sustain a culture of nibbling at the national cake. For the ordinary citizen, 56% of who live below the poverty line, the quest for a new constitution was meant to provide an environment that will lift them out of poverty. To many, the constitution was meant to address the disparities between the wealthy few and the poor majority. But pray, what sustains the majority of Kenyans in poverty, while their political elites wallow in extreme wealth?
A leading daily reported early this year that 78% of the 43.5 billion shilling tea industry is owned by foreigners, the 42 billion shilling tourism industry and 71% of banking are all foreign owned. The political elites have done little to expose the citizenry to the virtues of business in order to make them fit in the competitive world. Reports on inequality and who is who in the wealth spectrum are dotted with politicians and their activists. The two constitutions make joining politics more profitable that product making enterprises. Kenyans are tired of political songs; voting yes or no to the existing documents will not change the predicament of the majority.
The government presented to its citizens ‘The Proposed New Constitution of Kenya’ for purposes of seeking their mandate on whether to legitimize it or not. In this case, the government does not have the moral authority to influence the outcome of the vote. The role of the government ought to be restricted to that of a referee. It is in the interest of the government that the true decisions of its citizenship be reflected in the final vote. Any attempt to modify or cook results will depict lack of ability to learn from history.
Kenyans still remember the Saitoti team that collected views on whether Kenyans were for or against multi party politics in the late 80s. The report alleged that Kenyans were opposed to many party politics. This led to upheavals that almost hit revolutionary proportions forcing Moi to finally lead a team of his clowns, who were still shouting no to pluralism, to accept multi party politics. The present leadership was on the forefront of the pluralism campaign, but keen analyses of the proposed constitution indicate a quest to reverse pluralism in its true sense.
Constitutional reform was one of the bombs in the arsenal of pluralists’ agitations in the 80s and 90s. The positive part of the whole scenario is that Kenyans are increasingly getting exposed to the nature of a politician. The originally respected honorable members of parliament have in the Kibaki era, become infamous for not only disrespecting the law but also not keeping promises. The political elite have given Kenyans a half cooked document, claiming 80% is good and 20% dirty, to be cleaned at a later stage. Some Kenyans shed blood; others were detained to get Section 2 (a) in the current constitution amended to allow pluralism. What makes proponents marketing a 20% flawed document so sure that the leadership will easily accept amendments once they get the mandate? True, Kenyan tax money was spent to get a new constitution, but Kenyans did not ask given a document that suddenly raises tribal passions for fear of proposed pharaoh’s power to whoever will be president.
Kenyans should not put too much faith in the political elites for a sound constitution. The newly emerged political alliances point at a war of vested interests as opposed to constitutional debate. The constitutional issues have been watered down to a power struggle among the political elites. Tribes, clans and families are aligning themselves in terms of perceived dangers and benefits that the proposed new constitution is expected to deliver. The common mwananchi who for the last 42 years has remained a spectator in national matters, is now being wooed to legitimize the quest of the elites.
Anti colonial sentiments in Kenya were driven mostly by the quest of tribesmen to reclaim the land that had been taken away from them. Cultural custodians also dreamt of reclaiming their old economic order and family values. But for the few who benefited from the colonial system, anti colonial forces were evil; this included mostly colonial chiefs and religious converts at that time. After gaining independence, the elites at that time focused more on how to share the spoils from the withdrawing British. Little investment was put on how to get sound laws that would propel the ordinary Kenyan into a productive citizen. The old approach of ‘serikali’ knows it all was sustained. The force of ‘kirauni’ was employed to kick the butts of dissenting voices. A new dispensation of a king cum president was invented during the Kenyatta era. Come Moi, the Kenyatta barons could not imagine themselves out of power. An orchestrated campaign to kick the new Kalenjin ‘king’ out of power started. The constitutional reform was the best front to get Moi out.
It is common knowledge that the constitutional process in Kenya ceased to be a legal driven issue when it landed in Bomas and became a political process. It therefore does not make sense for politicians to hide behind legalism to claim that they can not sober up, rectify areas with errors and ask Kenyans to vote only those issues that are contentious. Kenyans need a constitution that will enable them use their talents to solve their own problems without waiting for some political resolutions that increase international debt while cleaning people’s pockets in taxes. The new world order demands that Kenyans get a sober leader who can steer the country to become a great province in Africa.
By James Shikwati
Mr. Shikwati is the Director of Inter Region Economic Network
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