Public Forum Report ~~ 13th September 2019
Theme: constitutional amendments: a citizen centric approach and proactive citizenship: the way forward for Kenya. Report by Allan Induswe
The political push-pull agenda, proposed and being campaigned for from a section of top Kenyan political elites, concerns “constitutional amendment”. The Hekima Institute of Peace Studies and International Relations (HIPSIR) organized a public forum on the issue on 13 September 2019, with a view to grasping what this issue entails and to bring academics, the public, professionals and civil organizations to come and dialogue on it. One area it focused involved the place of the citizens in the entire process of making and effecting a constitutional change. Among the issues of importance at the forum was the conversation about peace and security, which have always been key issues during any political campaigns and electioneering period in Kenya.
Could the conversation begin with sentiments about peace before the 2022 general election? During the discussion, civic awareness and participation were highlighted as issues that leave much to desire. Civic education and civilian inclusion were suggested as fundamental elements for citizens to make informed political decisions on issues (e.g., constitutional amendment) that significantly touch their lives.
The core content in the public forum pertained to the question of cohesion and inclusivity, a theme that should be key in the dialogue towards constitutional amendment. Generally, compared to unwritten constitutions, written constitutions tend to present difficulties of interpretation and are even harder to change (Spiro, 2019).
Since 1992, there has been a common trend of making a constitutional amendment or facilitative reforms prior to any general election in Kenya. A Constitutional amendment is a serious public matter given that, theoretically, a constitution, is “…an unchangeable law, unchangeable, that is to say, by the national legislature, and changeable even by the people only through a slow and difficult process” (Hart, 1996).
The quest for a new constitution in Kenya began as early as 1992 and the journey culminated in 2010, but only after a 2007-8 post-election violence that led to the loss of lives and properties, and caused the displacement of thousands. The main question posed by the first speaker during the public forum was whether Kenyans have achieved through the new constitution, from its inception to present what they desired in in it. Encapsulated in the preamble and further captured in Article 10, of the said constitution, Kenyans desired:
(a) patriotism, national unity, sharing and devolution of power, the rule of law, democracy and participation of the people;
(b) human dignity, equity, social justice, inclusiveness, equality, human rights, non-discrimination and protection of the marginalized;
(c) good governance, integrity, transparency and accountability; and
(d) sustainable development.(Kenyan Constitution 2010)
It is apparent that, as noted during the Forum, the implementation process of the constitution has been flawed and both the citizens and the top political elites are not keen in as much as the implementation process is concerned.
Why the current call for a new constitutional amendment? A constitutional amendment should only be desirable if some clauses in the constitution or the entire constitution has been found faulty or impracticable. This is, however, only reached through a thorough audit by an independent institution. The Kenyan population has not seen such an audit done. This means there has been no adequate channel through which the new constitution’s achievement have been weighed at all.
The handshake, between the President of Kenya and the chief of the opposition Hon. Raila Odinga was politically motivated due to the instability that resulted after a flawed general election. The handshake led to the building bridges initiative (BBI) which has a nine-point thematic agenda on its calendar to address. These are: corruption, ethnic antagonism and competition, devolution, divisive elections, inclusivity, lack of national ethos, safety and security, shared prosperity, responsibilities, and rights (Kahura, 2019).
On the other hand, the Thirdway Alliance, (another opposition party) in a bid generated a bill for which they managed to achieve the requisite million signatures from the masses to compel a referendum for the amendment of the same constitution. In their argument, the Thirdway Alliance, selling their ‘punguza mzingo’ agenda, feel that the government structures are somehow inflated in the sense that the taxpayers have to incur unwarranted expenses by funding the government and its inflated budget. The plenary of the public forum expressed that the Thirdway Alliances’ agenda as presented sounded somewhat plausible and right, and hence very appealing to the masses. However, the fact is that its agenda are difficult to implement as such since no clear way is provided to achieve this.
All said and done, both initiatives claim to be for the common good of the citizenry. How this is to be achieved is still the main question. This is a game by politicians to flex their political muscle and prove that they are a force to reckon with and hence call for a round table discourse which would see them broker a power sharing deal. From another perspective, it could be an attempt by the Punguza Mzigo proponents to stall the key government agenda of building bridges and trying to handle various key issues affecting the country that tend to be the matrix of violence in the event of national democratic exercises like voting. Through a referendum, the politicians could predict their influence upon the masses and thus gauge their chances of winning in the fourth coming 2022 general election and this means they are poised to putting in place the necessary measures to seal any loopholes that could infringe on their political agenda.
The public forum invites the citizen to be engaged and to work with the government in coming up with realistic frameworks of checks and balances towards responding to key questions that bedevil democracy and democratic processes. Center stage to all government agenda should be quality service delivery to the citizens, since democracy is a rule of the people by the people, and all elected leaders should represent the interests of the voter.
Hart, V. (1994). Bound by our Constitution. New Jersy: Princeston University Press.
Kahura, D. (2019, August 22). Politics BBI and the Referendum: Another False Start? Retrieved from Elephant: https://www.theelephant.info/features/2019/08/22/bbi-and-the-referendum-another-false-start/
Spiro, H. J. (2019, September 17). Constitutional change. Retrieved from Encyclopædia Britannica: https://www.britannica.com/topic/constitution-politics-and-law