Since 1902

BBI verdict affirms the supremacy of rule of law

Chief Justice Martha Koome during the reading of the BBI verdict at the Supreme court building yesterday. [Collins Kweyu, Standard]

The Supreme Court yesterday delivered its final judgement on the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI), ending a debate that has gone on for over two years on constitutional amendments.

In the verdict, the clear winner is Kenya’s democracy and Constitution. The judges affirmed that fidelity to the Constitution and rule of law are non-negotiable. While the court ruled that Kenyans are free to amend the Constitution as and when they wish to, it asserted that there is a clear process to be followed in doing so and that this process cannot be abused by anyone irrespective of their status in government.

The critical lesson that politicians must draw from this judgement is that any constitutional amendment should not be predicated on one election. The BBI, from its inception, had all the signs that it was meant to benefit individuals or regions – for instance, the creation of the 70 new constituencies – at the expense of others in the August 9 General Election.

The Constitution, and any amendment to it, should be looked at in the long term. Talking about the 70 new constituencies, the Supreme Court affirmed that you cannot amend the Constitution by flouting it. The 2010 Constitution delegates the role of delimitation of constituency boundaries to the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) and not anyone else, and defines a clear process of doing so.

This judgement is also proof that Kenya’s democracy has matured or is on a path to maturity. By all standards, this is the first major political decision by the Supreme Court that has not been greeted with demonstrations. It is laudable that Kenyans are starting to understand that they don’t have to react to every judicial or other political decision through demonstrations or violence.

This is a good sign as we approach the August General Election. Whatever the outcome of the election, Kenyans should either accept it graciously or follow the law in challenging it if they disagree. This is also a reminder to political leaders that they don’t have to incite the wananchi against one another to gain their support or win an election.

The Judiciary should be applauded for demonstrating its independence in the entire case on BBI Bill, right from the High Court to the Court of Appeal and now to the Supreme Court. The courts has demonstrated that it cannot be swayed by political leanings in an election year every decision is being interpreted based on which side one is perceived to be.

While delivering the judgement yesterday, Chief Justice Martha Koome even called out those who tried to sway the court decision through their social media posts. It is a clear message to Kenyans – lawyers or otherwise – who are fond of prosecuting court cases on the corridors of social media that they need to give the judges time and space to perform their duties independently.

Going forward and as we approach the elections, politicians should desist from disrespecting courts or behaving in a manner that demeans the Judiciary. Just recently, a senator engaged a magistrate in shouting match, a really bad example for wananchi who just want the rule of law upheld.