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New Constitution must produce quick wins to the citizenry

By | August 22nd 2010

By Kamotho Waiganjo

One of the unfortunate effects of the information age, in which breaking news is a 24/7 affair, is the tendency to elevate the mundane to the extraordinary and to easily distract from substance to trivia. Nowhere has this been more evident than in the discourse on the new Constitution.

A flip between TV and FM talk shows leaves one with the feeling that the critical issues of the day are whether Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga will be running mates in the 2012 General Election, the fate of the KKK alliance, when we should have immediate amendments on the "contentious issues" and whether the ‘No’ team should be included in the implementation teams. These issues may be titillating but they are mere distractions. The big issue remains how to fulfil Kenyans desire for real reform, which was deafeningly expressed by their overwhelming turnout and the huge margin of the ‘Yes’ win.

The primary conversation needs to be how to ensure the Constitution produces quick wins so that its impact is visible to the citizenry even before its substantive effects are felt. The conversation should include the question of how to ensure that in the medium term, some significant instalments of the reform dividend are received by a wide cross section of Kenyans, thus keeping the reform agenda a public enterprise.

The conversation should include a discussion on how to navigate the roadblocks in the journey to the new Kenya. In Kenya’s short history, patronage and corruption networks have thrived by virtue of their knowledge of how the current system works. They have been able to mutate when governments change so that they retain the benefits and privileges that patronage delivers. The new law introduces a completely different playing field in which the ownership of the command and control avenues are new, diverse and not as easily manipulated.

The agenda of these networks will therefore be to prolong the transition so that they can get their networks in place by the time the Constitution is fully rolled out. Like King Herod feigning excitement for baby Jesus, their ostensible support for the new Constitution disguises a malevolent desire to kill the new born before it can grow and challenge their authority. They have the resources and will use all avenues, including the courts, to maintain some, if not all, of the status quo.

The implications of these challenges is that institutions that have normally played an oversight role in the reform programme, including the media, the Church, civil society and private sector lobbies must not be so sucked into the daily melodrama or the race for reform programme consultancies that they get their eye off the ball. They must get intricately involved in the real business of reform this season. They must ensure there is fidelity to the processes and timelines imposed by the Constitution. And that the new institutions promised under the Constitution exhibit the values and competencies implied by the new law. They cannot drop the baton, not now, when the night is about to give way to morning.

The writer is an advocate of the High Court

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