You can’t call for law review and silence voices of reason

We deceive ourselves if we imagine that progress flows along a straight line. Great success is often very deceptive. For, sooner than later, we find ourselves in the hard place where we have been before. Philosophers have told us that history is itself cyclic. We rise and rise, until we begin declining. Then we fall. Our children go right where their grandparents were, to begin all over.

If it were not so, we would not remember today, that in 1981 Jaramogi Oginga Odinga wrote a caustic open letter to President Moi. It was an angry yet sober letter, from a pained heart. Jaramogi was concerned about the intolerance in Kenya. Two years earlier, he had been barred from contesting in the General Election. And this year, he had been briefly accepted back into the Kanu fold, only to be dropped like a hot brick, for saying unacceptable things about the late President Jomo Kenyatta. In the letter published in Salim Lone’s Viva Magazine, Jaramogi asked Kenya’s second president to stop behaving as if he had a title deed for the whole country. He told President Moi that Kenyans were not squatters. He asked him to open up democratic space. Every Kenyan had a right to participate in the civic life of the country and to benefit from the opportunities.

It would take 29 years for Kenya to enjoy the breath of fresh air that Mzee Jaramogi dreamt of in 1981. Change would arrive through a brand new Constitution in 2010. Yet today we might have to fight again, for the Constitution. There are persons out there saying they want to improve the Constitution. But they also think that the Constitution is their personal property. Only they are allowed to propose any changes to this property. As was done in 1981, someone may have to tell Jaramogi’s son that he does not have a title deed for Kenya. You see, Dr Ekuru Aukot has made proposals to amend the Constitution of Kenya. He has bundled them under the umbrella of something he calls“Punguza Mizigo.”

Aukot is saying that Kenyans are overburdened and that it is time they were unburdened. He has, therefore, made a cocktail of proposals on how this could be done – through amending the Constitution.

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But people of goodwill will find it difficult to accept some of Aukot’s propositions. I called Aukot and told him he had shot Punguza Mizigo in the foot. It will not walk. For example, I hail from three populous counties. I belong to Nairobi, Kakamega and Trans Nzoia counties. Kakamega has a population of 1.7 million. In Nairobi, we are 3.1 million, while in Trans Nzoia the figure sits at 819,000. Now Aukot says that only two MPs – a man and a woman each – should represent each county.

Lamu has 101,000. Kakamega’s population is 17 times that of Lamu. Yet Aukot and his Third Way Alliance want the two to have the same number of MPs? It is simply unfair, an oppression of the majority by the minority. For that alone I would vote against the Bill. But doesn’t Aukot have a right to be heard? Is his party not allowed to say its thing, even if we will not agree with it? Just as was the case in the 1980s, constitutionalism is in danger once again. The apotheosis of leaders is back. Someone just sneezes and everyone around him catches the cold of sycophancy. If in the 1980s the Nyayo staff hit us rather hard, it was in part because we wanted it that way. There were attack dogs, suffocating freedom.

These attack dogs composed and sang songs that urged the President to detain you unheard. The biggest tragedy in that age was the culture of the cheering crowd. Ministers, university professors, and the bathroom man alike, all sang the Nyayo song. They outdid each other in deifying the leader. Naturally, the hubris grew. And democracy paid the price. You cannot today be calling for a better Constitution while also telling other people who wish to be heard to shut up. To do so is to suggest that the Constitution is your property. You get the impression that the Constitution of Kenya is ODM leader Raila Odinga’s property. Accordingly, the country must stop and wait for the day he will tell them what changes should be made to this property.

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Mr Odinga has his own constitutional review process, which he co-owns with President Uhuru Kenyatta, going on. They call it the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI). It is supposed to end traditional rivalry between their two families, among other things. BBI and Mizigo have the same force in law, as they are citizen initiatives to amend the Constitution, in line with Article 257.

The only difference between BBI and Mizigo is that President Kenyatta gazetted BBI. But he had no mandate to do so. There is no law that allows the President and a private citizen to begin and gazette things like BBI. If the President and a citizen have differences that threaten the peace, it is good when they shake hands to end their mutual animosity. It is even better when they decide that they want to amend the Constitution, if it will help to permanently pack away their animus.

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However, they only do this in their private capacities. BBI belongs to this citizen’s popular initiative. Any citizen who wants can make presentations to them, if invited to do so.

This, however, does not confer special status to BBI. Accordingly, Aukot and others should not be demonised. The dancers around Baba should not roll back our democratic gains.

- The writer is a strategic public communication advisor.  www.barrackmuluka.co.ke

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