Ethical citizens will change Kenya not the constitution

Ethical citizens will change Kenya not the constitution

By Joseph Lister Nyaringo

As we well and truly get into 2021, we need to remind ourselves that the destiny of any society is pegged on actions, thoughts, habits, and the characters of every citizen. 

The raging debate to hold a referendum based on the recommendations of the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has attracted different opinions from Kenyans. Many have questioned why it’s a priority to change a constitution that is only 10 years old. 

A section of Kenyans do agree that to conform to modern trends of governance and public service, an amendment is necessary. But others contend that, in a society where citizens lack ethical values, even if we had a perfect constitution, it would be elusive to realize change. 

Transforming society mostly lies in the mind and not necessarily in the laws of that society. 

Prof. Charles Choti of Washington DC observes, “in the history of Kenya, it’s not a bad constitution which makes us kill each other during every election but political greed and the desire to retain power without popular will.” 

A nation that displays its problems on paper usually has leaders and citizens who lack character and integrity. Positive change is in the hearts and minds of people. 

Those opposed to the BBI referendum argue that if we implemented Chapters 4 and 6 of the current constitution which focuses on the rights of individuals, and leadership and integrity, we would realize a just and value-driven society.

We need to question ourselves why the TJRC Report is gathering dust when it has great provisions to address historical injustices. On electoral justice, proponents of the proposed referendum rarely talk about the Justice Kriegler and Justice Waki’s reports; all their energies are directed towards the BBI.

Doing the right things takes will power. It doesn’t matter whether you are a regular citizen or a government official. We all contribute to Kenya’s success or doom. 

How much taxpayer’s money are we going to spend to change the law in order to address our myriad political and economic challenges when we are aware that the solution lies in character and integrity?

If indeed changing  a constitution is a panacea for Kenya’s success, how many times have the current President, his deputy, and a couple of Cabinet Secretaries violated the constitution with impunity? 

It’s foolhardy to change a law when you don’t respect an existing one! Changing the constitution cannot compel a leader to be morally upright, less corrupt, or less tribal.

How has the current constitution prevented President Kenyatta and his deputy William Ruto from crafting an inclusive government that reflects the face of Kenya? On the other hand, why have we failed to use current constitutional safeguards like Chapter 6 to vet leaders running for political office?   

When looked critically, the handshake between President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga which birthed the BBI now pushing for a referendum, hasn’t done anything to advance fairness, justice, and inclusivity in the country but rather a conduit to share power amongst the top echelons of the political class.

Doing the right things takes will power. It doesn’t matter whether you are a regular citizen or a government official. We all contribute to Kenya’s doom or success”

Granted, the handshake helped to thaw political animosity in the country after the 2017 polls. Nevertheless, most supporters of Kenyatta and Odinga in Kenya and abroad are skeptical about the real urgency for a referendum when we have a constitution perceived to be the most
progressive in Africa.

After the handshake, we expected to see inclusivity in the structure of government and compensation to the families who bore the brunt in 2017 post-election violence as well as a complete overhaul of the IEBC. Today, we have all but forgotten that conversation.

We should strive to be honest with ourselves even as we deal with others in our everyday lives. If our politicians can acquire fake degrees, where is academic integrity from the awarding institution and the awardee? In the long-run, the awardee will use the fake degree to ascend to power and the cycle of dishonesty will continue in perpetuity. This is the Kenya we know, and a constitutional referendum cannot reverse this.  

The “Kibaki tosha” declaration by Odinga in 2002 propelled Kibaki to the presidency. Tragically, the retired President failed to conduct national healing, entrench inclusivity, and fight graft. Instead, he underwent a complete metamorphosis. And when Kibaki failed to reciprocate Odinga’s gesture, the country went into anarchy. 

While it’s prudent to change laws to suit prevailing circumstances, the proponents of BBI must first tell Kenyans how the current Constitution has failed in the fight against endemic corruption, inequality, nepotism, and other vices bedeviling the country.

— Nyaringo is the president of Kenya Patriotic Movement, a diaspora lobby based in the US

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