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Those who abuse clerics have failed the test of democracy

COMMENTARY
By | August 22nd 2010

By Samuel Poghisio

I salute those who voted in the referendum and particularly those who had the courage to stand by their conscience and vote ‘No’ — you too are part of history.

We must now let go of our ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ positions, attitudes and prejudices to move forward. For instance, there are those who believe those who were ‘Red’ should face punishment and those who were ‘Green’ should grab some reward for their support of the draft. These are the kind of attitudes we do not need.

Maturity is a necessary ingredient in taking us forward and certain attitudes and prejudices will achieve nothing but hold us back from progress.

It matters little now who was ‘Red’ and ‘Green’ because we have a new Constitution for all Kenyans.

I am particularly miffed by the name-calling directed towards church leaders. Canon Peter Karanja and John Cardinal Njue did not take the stand they did for personal praise and to consistently aim barbs at them is to fail the test of maturity.

The Church is not built on the efforts of men or on the content of opinion polls. Christians do not believe in Rev Karanja or Cardinal Njue. They believe in God. That has not changed and will not change.

To move forward, we respect the Church’s right to take the position they took and we must not seek to reprimand or castigate the clergy. Maturity in democracy demands that we respect each other’s opinion.

On the thorny issue of amendments, the overriding concern when dealing with this issue is not who won or lost. I have heard and read commentaries suggesting losers have no business seeking to amend a document ratified by the majority. This line of thought is completely erroneous.

Let us not confuse a referendum and an election. The draft that was put to vote was ratified and it is now the Constitution of the land. Like any constitution anywhere in the world, the people reserve the right to amend it for the benefit of society. Once a constitution is in place, amendments are nothing unusual. Yes, the amendments in question derive from issues raised during the referendum but that does not in any way reduce or negate the necessity of the changes. The fact that the draft is now a constitution does not insulate it from amendment.

Moreover, a key argument of the ‘Yes’ push was the promise to address the clauses that were of concern to the Church and other interest groups. This is a promise that the leadership must fulfill.

President Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga consistently made this promise and repeatedly asked the nation to let the draft pass because the majority of the document was good and the few clauses causing disquiet could and would be addressed.

There are those who argue implementation should take precedence over amendments. There is no reason why both cannot happen concurrently.

All that is required is the political will to do the work.

There are those who argue we should live with new draft for a period of time before making amendments. It is not a matter of time. Even if you wait for a 100 years, the position of the Church on Article 26(4), for instance, will not change. Time will not wash away the moral heart of the issue. Also, constitutions are not amended by timelines. You do not need to wait for a certain period to amend them. If the cause is right, amendments can be carried out whether the Constitution is one day old or a 100 years old.

We have to move forward and I commend the President and the Prime Minister for the magnanimity in the aftermath and their all inclusive approach to the implementation process. I ask them to remember their promises during the referendum campaign.

—The writer is the Minister for Information and Communication and MP for Kacheliba.

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