Constitutional change: The process is as old as Kenya
By Amos Kareithi | April 27th 2021
Every now and then, during some political frenzy, calls are made on the need to change the Constitution. When this bug bites, the country goes into a near paralysis as leaders dance themselves lame to the tune of reggae, as has been happening recently.
The clamour to change the Constitution is seen today was experienced 45 years ago. This photograph, taken in October 1976 captures the chief architects of the Gema-leaning Change the Constitution group in a meeting in Nakuru town.
The circumstances then and now are almost similar, as one of the motivations for changing the Constitution was to midwife the Jomo Kenyatta succession. At the time, James Gichuru, Paul Ngei and Njenga Karume who were close confidants of the former president teamed up with the fiery Kihika Kimani. They publicly declared their singular mission to change the Constitution was to block Daniel Moi who was then the vice president from succeeding Jomo Kenyatta, in the event the president died in office.
However, their mission was scuttled when Jomo admonished them but died in office two years later. This paved the way for the man the Change the Constitution gang loved to hate to assume power.
Although all the actors in this scheme are gone, the political landscape seems to be replaying over again; the script of changing the Constitution to fix political problems.
Today, Kenya is caught up in yet another frenzy to change the Constitution. This time Jomo’s son, President Uhuru Kenyatta, is driving the process. His deputy, William Ruto, is not too keen to support the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) whose core role is to change the architecture of government, dilute the deputy president’s powers and introduce the position of a prime minister who will supervise the day-to-day running of government and be the leader of government business in Parliament. Although Kihika is long dead, his position in the Change the Constitution debate has been taken by his equally vocal daughter Susan Kihika. The Nakuru senator has identified herself with leaders allied to Ruto, who are opposing the BBI and the proposed constitutional amendment. She argues that the power distribution is akin to giving power to unelected people through the backdoor.
The discourse to change the Constitution has reached its crescendo this year, 24 months to Uhuru’s exit. It remains to be seen whether Uhuru, like his father, will triumph in determining Kenya’s future politics and governance, in a way midwifing his own succession or he will be beaten by his detractors.
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