Why our responsibilities and rights as Kenyans should be defined

One of the most important issues in democratic practice is citizen participation. The intention is to produce better democratic decisions, which is crucial in the governing process. However, the question arises; under which conditions can inclusive citizen participation thrive and produce the greatest gains?

Even with this, one may still assert that individual actions may amount to little while in fact; each act of citizenship is at the heart of the most critical part of a successful democracy because active citizenship creates our totality.

About 8 years ago, Kenya promulgated a new constitution described as one of the most progressive in the region. This is more prominent because the clamor for constitutional change has been part of our politics since independence. Hallowed for very progressive provisions, the constitution received overwhelming support. From providing that sovereign power lies with the people, to inclusion of national values and principles, to providing Judicial independence and executive accountability.

Of all the provisions of the constitution, the introduction of a Bill of Rights was received with praises from the civil society, human rights activists, those who had suffered in the hands of the government. So comprehensive is Chapter 4 of our constitution that 41 articles are dedicated to espouse the citizens’ rights and freedoms.

Truly, I do not see any problem with the Bill of Rights, neither is its inclusion in the constitution nor its provisions. However, here lies the flaw in the architect of our constitution. I have searched cover to cover on the duties and responsibilities of the citizens and I am yet to find a single provision on what my duty is as a Kenyan citizen. The constitution is deaf, dumb and blind on what duties I owe my society.

The rights

I have wondered whether my duties and responsibilities as a citizen are too trivial to be included in our social contract. I have asked myself whether my duties and responsibilities as a citizen are inborn and bestowed upon me at birth and therefore, perhaps, require no socialization to grasp. But wait; hasn’t the same constitution recognized natural rights, which are bestowed, on everyone by nature? Even if the rights and duties of the citizens were to be natural, can this be a justification for elimination from the constitution? I doubt.

The need for the people to know their constitutional duties is obvious. Just as we want to measure our progress on the amount of rights we are enjoying in all aspects, the other side of the scale should measure progress based on the amount of duties and responsibilities we have discharged as a people.

I have read the constitutions of Rwanda and Tanzania. Honestly, I found desirable features in the two constitutions, which give their citizens a sense of duty and responsibility. For example, Chapter 5 of the Constitution of Rwanda sets out provisions regarding the duties of the state and of the citizens. The first among the duties is to respect state property.

Good health

State property is comprehensively defined, and the constitution explains that it is unalienable except as the law provides.  My reading here is that this reinforces national values and once entrenched in daily dealings, there is hope of a society where the corrupt are unacceptable and the wayward frowned upon. The constitution bestows upon every Rwandan a duty to take part in activities aimed at good health and maintaining good relations with others. Of interest is the duty of every Rwandan to defy superior orders if they constitute a serious and obvious violation of human rights and freedoms. This is expressed as a right but under duties.

On the other hand, Chapter 1 of the Constitution of Tanzania provides for the citizens’ duties to society, which include; duty to participate in work, abide by laws, safeguard public property and to defend the country. It is not enough to enumerate the rights and freedoms of citizens.

We cannot continue to be rights bearers free from obligations and duties to our country, for this can only weaken and fragment us further. As we aspire to make our country a more responsible nation, our duties should be enshrined in our constitution. The benefits of embracing citizen duties including cementing our sense of nationhood and patriotism are real. We cannot give up on what is ours and by extension, our duty.

From where I sit, the Building Bridges Initiative provides the appropriate platform to fill the void. It is my hope that as citizens, we will be able to use this available platform to present what we feel should be our duties to ourselves as a country. We owe this to our country and ourselves. Rights without duties are like a body without a soul.

Prof. Mogambi, Communication and Social Change Expert, teaches at the University of Nairobi: hmogambi @ yahoo.co.uk

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