Constitution reforms not a priority

A new survey reveals that 89% of Kenyans don’t care about reforming the constitution, but want the government to address poverty, insecurity and healthcare.

With rising food and energy prices, majority of Kenyans are more concerned with inflation than with a constitutional process seen as the preserve of politicians. Security emerged as a major concern for a country traumatized by political and ethnic clashes that left over 1,000 dead and half a million homeless. Land reforms featured consistently among poll responses.

The findings were released by Gallup International, a respected polling organization.

According to Gallup, only 9% of respondents feel that constitutional reforms are a priority. Apart from concerns about the economy, health care and security, Kenyans are anxious about the state of infrastructure in the country. Road rehabilitation has been slow as water and electricity shortages bite harder.

The findings were a big disappointment to civil rights activists and politicians, who have been lobbying for constitutional reforms since the early 1990s. Non-governmental organizations, politicians, lawyers and religious leaders – all backed by foreign diplomats – have persistently driven the view that a new constitution is the only path towards a wealthy society. The findings of the Gallup poll will question the legitimacy of these groups.

This is not the first survey showing Kenyans’ disregard for constitutional issues. Last December, just before the elections, another survey revealed that Kenyans want jobs, medicines in public hospitals, clean water and safe roads.

In spite of the rhetoric by politicians that Kenyans “want” constitutional reforms, the ordinary man and woman on the street is not fooled. Kenyans know that this obsession with changing the constitution has more to do with the trappings of power than it has to do with making a better country. A good example is the so-called Bomas Draft that some political parties want to implement.

If the Bomas Draft becomes a reality, every politician in Kenya will have a job thanks to multiple layers of government. There will be government at village level, locational level, the district, province and right to the national level. There will be mini-parliaments for the provinces and districts. Each layer of government will levy its own taxes. According to the Bomas Draft, retired politicians will be accommodated in some form of national council of elders.

There is little mention in the Bomas Draft of expanding economic production in order to provide jobs, food and housing to the growing population.

Political meddling in Kenya’s constitution has resulted in numerous amendments since independence. Most of these were designed to deal with a prevailing political threat. For instance, in 1966, President Jomo Kenyatta’s administration introduced an amendment that forced Members of Parliament who dissented with their political parties to face fresh elections. This amendment was targeted at Kenyatta’s critics, such as opposition leader Jaramogi Oginga Odinga.

In 1992, Kenya’s second president, Daniel arap Moi, amended the constitution to make his Kenya African National Union (KANU) the only legal political party. The amendment was removed in 1991 after international pressure.

Throughout the 1990s, President Moi’s opponents wanted the constitution changed in order to give themselves a better chance of winning. After the 1997 elections, the opposition began lobbying for the creation of a Prime Minister’s position after realizing that removing Moi from the presidency was impossible. Moi resisted their calls for a new constitution saying that the opposition was not sincere.

In 2002, Moi agreed to have a National Constitution Conference at the Bomas of Kenya. However, he made the conference so big that failure was a guarantee. The Bomas conference had over 600 delegates with all 222 Members of Parliament included. It was the largest constitutional conference in the history of the world.

Just before the conference completed its work, Moi dissolved parliament in readiness for the 2002 General Election. With most of the delegates being politicians, the Bomas conference was postponed in order to give them time to campaign. Mwai Kibaki won the elections and was sworn into office on December 30th, 2002 promising the enactment of the Bomas constitution within 6 months. That was not to happen.

Kibaki had made a political alliance with Raila Odinga, Kalonzo Musyoka and others based on the enactment of a new constitution. Raila was promised the position of executive prime minister. In the first few months of 2003, Raila and his Liberal Democratic Party (LDP) continually reminded Kibaki of his pledge to change the constitution and make Raila a prime minister.

John Michuki, a Kibaki ally, dropped the bombshell. Michuki announced that the purpose of constitutional reforms had all along been to remove Moi and KANU from power. Since these objectives had been achieved, it was no longer necessary to reform the constitution.  Raila and LDP were outraged, and his alliance with President Kibaki came to an end.

In 2005, Kibaki wrote another draft giving the prime minister much less powers. Raila and LDP campaigned hard against Kibaki’s draft constitution and it was defeated in a national referendum held in November 2005. Since then, no further progress has been made in enacting a new constitution.

Gallup’s recent poll demonstrates that ordinary Kenyans clearly understand the intention behind constitutional review. With Kenyans being the most educated Africans, most realize that it takes much more than a constitution to create a better society. Constitutions do not build roads, power lines, hospitals and schools. All these are day-to-day responsibilities of a government.

The orgy of self-destruction seen this year was not driven by the current constitution. If anything, our present constitution criminalizes murder, rape, arson, looting and incitement. The present constitution, which has guided the country for 45 years, gives every Kenyan citizen the right to work, live and own property anywhere within our borders. The current constitution recognizes the rights of all racial groups in Kenya, that is, Africans, Caucasians, Hindus and Arabs.

As it was noted after the post elections violence, Kenyans need to re-examine the way they conduct politics. If people can kill and steal under the current constitution, why should they obey a new constitution?

Kenyans are suffering from a political class that is nurturing the values of impunity, racism, ethnic hatred, sexism and hereditary politics. It is unthinkable in the 21st century that politicians want a constitution that violates the rights of specific racial and ethnic groups. If such a constitution were enacted, life in Kenya will not get better. It will only get worse.

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