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Self-determination is missing link in laws to forge democracy

By Abdikadir Sheikh | March 15th 2020

There seems to be a lot of energy centred on changing the Constitution again. The energy, as always, is coming from leaders and not the people. Since they decide what happens in this country, perhaps it is time to give opinions on what the changes should include. 

Self-determination is a cardinal principle in modern international law, which allows those who feel subordinated to pursue self-determination. It states that people, based on respect for the principle of equal rights and fair equality of opportunity, have the right to freely choose their destiny and political status with no interference. 

One may ask how the right to self-determination will help. This is how, all tribes and communities in Kenya, can be grouped into two in the context of this article and self-determination. Those that feel not fully included in the political and other spheres of life, as the so-called building bridges group is working to solve and those who exclude them.

The mere fact that the excluded know that if all else fails, they have the option of walking away, reassures them greatly and solves the problems of desperate situation of going to war. And on the other hand, the alleged oppressors will be conscious of the fact that abuses and violations of rights could lead to people voting with their feet rather than their voters’ card.

This is more like signing an agreement knowing that it will be held against you. Post-election violence could have been avoided if self-determination was part of our Constitution because people only go to war when they feel they have no avenue to address their grievances. The aggrieved party in 2007 election would have shouted self-determination and the matter would have ended up in Parliament however difficult it might be, just like the Brexit referendum in the UK but no blood would have been spilt.

Ethical and political questions

Some may view the proposal cynically – a taboo subject - but it might be the answer we have been waiting for if explored objectively and with open mind. Self-determination concept raises fundamentally important ethical and political questions for each and every Kenyan, for two reasons, one because of our national ethnic make up and two it is a basic human right just like the right to life and liberty under Article one of the Charter of the United Nations.

Others may say the concept evokes emotions and fear but it also evokes aspirations, expectations and hopes. The idea of self-determination is a guarantee not to be subjected to the violations of human and democratic rights. Any country willing to respect and treat its citizens’  rights has nothing to fear to include a self-determination Article in its nations Constitution   

Self-determination is not a new concept in the region. Ethiopia for example, after disastrous civil wars were fought for many years between the central government and various ethno-liberations fronts, federal system with self-determination was introduced in the Constitution in 1995.

Since then the economy and governance of Ethiopia has improved. It is neither new in the world, Catalonia of Spain declared independence from Spain, which is still not out of the woods. Our neighbour South Sudan determined their political destiny and Kenya supported it. United kingdom left the European Union and that was the peoples decision whether good or bad. It all boils down to the right of the people to choose their political destiny and check mating abuses.

Currently this country is bleeding and it is taken down by a few, through corruption and nepotism and it is time we change strategy before it is too late. A lot of people have lost confidence in those in leadership and to some extent those governing have lost legitimacy. The future of our children and this country will largely depend on whether we critically think of what is good for this country or gloss over issues and discredit those with different but important ideas.

It has been the desire of part of our nation to self-determine when they lost confidence in the election systems and the electoral bodies. People must only be governed by their consent and confidence and should not be treated like they are someone’s guests.    

Whatever criticism people may have about self-determination, it should be considered in the next review. We have often times been reminded that power is with the people as stated in the Constitution but we have seen and know that power is actually with few individuals and families. And in reality there is no one people in this country as stipulated by the Constitution, there are peoples in this country and it is manifested in how national leaders talk about “their people” which means a particular group of people as opposed to the people of Kenya.

Let us breath some life into Article one of the Constitution by including self-determination, as it has been seen in the last ten years that power is not actually with the people as stated. Self-determination will help us break down the problem of “people” into its component parts and solve the problem of the elusive power with the people. One people electorate seem to work only for the few at the top, it is time to change strategy and try many people electorate.

The bridging we need is the divide between representatives and disillusioned electorate.

- The writer is an Advocate of the High Court. [email protected]

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