On the constitution: let’s get our priorities right for the next decade

On the constitution: let’s get our priorities right for the next decade

It is possible for Kenya to move forward, but citizens must exercise their constitutional rights and the right to self-determination to enforce a free and equal society.

Stories of democracy and sustainability can be told in many other ways too; ones that connect much more deeply with human values. Consider this tale from India:

Ten years ago, sought to change their social and political fortunes when they promulgated a new Constitution. In their new governance contract, they recalibrated governance, to restore the power of the people, ensure dignity for all through a comprehensive human rights Bill, and to hold governments to account.

There are vary perspectives on what progress the country has made in the last decade since august 2010. What Kenyans agree on is that the job of implementing the constitution is an ongoing endeavour. They also agree that we haven’t done the best job about it. Instructively, we still bear the yoke of bad governance.

Curtailed at every bend
The 2010 Constitution was the outcome of pain, sweat and sacrifice. It was borne out of sheer will and tenacity. Curtailed at every bend, it has also not run its full cycle Certain key provisions have not been effected, partly owing to their sometimes idealistic slant, and partly because of political compromises.

While there are discussions about amending the charter, on the basis that it is a living document that must continuously be adjusted to reflect realities, the majority of Kenyans feel that the Constitution can still deliver if we become deliberate about its implementation.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), which has been tailored to support amendments, has identified a nine-point agenda but most of those have nothing to do with implementation. None justify tinkering with the document that has been both the source of national pride and chagrin.
Our present focus should be on improving the quality of constitutionalism. The last decade has seen a fundamental increase in the levels of awareness on the letter and content of the document.

Kenya fared relatively well by sub-Saharan African standards in that the region declined on all 25 foundational indicators except corruption control at a low 1.3 out of 4, freedom to hold property without undue interference, and freedom of marriage and family size (1.8 and 1.4 of 4 respectively.

A culture of constitutionalism
It is important that citizens and State agencies inculcate a culture of constitutionalism, to ensure we implement the charter in letter and spirit.
We must also work to strengthen the institutions tasked with championing implementation, including Parliament and constitutional commissions.
We must also address our failure to develop policies, based on robust analysis of the process of implementation and the challenges we have experienced so far, to guide implementation.

The emasculation of parliament has become significant as the Executive seeks to roll back some gains in the constitution through ordinary legislation, and an assault on democracy through disregard of court orders, arbitrary orders such as the one directing that hiring of external lawyers by ministries and government agencies have to be approved by the Attorney General.

Some laws that the National Assembly has passed have not been in line with the letter and spirit of the Constitution. Institutional conflicts over mandate, and general turf wars at different levels of government, have characterized implementation thus far.

Unacceptable culture
In a brief ten years, the country cannot be embroiled in conversation about constitutional change. President Uhuru Kenyatta and his Handshake ally Raila Odinga are pushing for amendments seen to be geared towards earning and entrenching them in power for the foreseeable future.

While there exist critical issues exist that require review, the approach employed towards that end is unacceptable because it appears to favour the political elite to the exclusion of the citizenry.

It is possible for Kenya to move forward, but citizens must exercise their constitutional rights and the right to self-determination to enforce a free and equal society as provided in the Constitution of Kenya 2010 — a society where the rule of law is the standard to which all institutions and persons are held.

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