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Let’s reason together on the need to amend Constitution

By Ababu Namwamba | Mar 30th 2014 | 3 min read

By Ababu Namwamba

At the height of clamour for a constitutional referendum mid last year, I wrote a piece here expressing some serious reservations, informed by two fundamentals. One, no serious effort had been made to objectively, honestly and lucidly identify and isolate the core issues for amendment, in a manner that would not upset the logical frame of the Constitution. Two, the debate had degenerated into a shrill political Ping-Pong, completely oblivious of the reality that in an inherently fractured society such as ours, a mission of this magnitude can only succeed through bipartisanship like the epochal consensus that birthed both our independence and the current second republic Constitution.

The position I took was in direct conflict with the view held by some leading lights in my CORD coalition, who were among the strong referendum proponents alongside Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto.

It is indeed a vindication of my concern expressed then, and a confirmation of how fickle politics can be, that today, less than a year down the line, those who pushed hardest for a referendum are now the most stridently opposed to any mention of opening up the Constitution! Their argument is that the current clamour is intended to mutilate the Constitution and scatter devolution to the four winds.

The debate now, as mid last year, is as divisive as the classical Kenyan political chasm.

Well, if this holds any lesson for us, it is the reminder that Constitution making or review is not and cannot be as easy, as casual and as gung-ho as some seem to imagine.

And why, for crying out loud, are we such lousy students of history, even the very fresh? How many times did we attempt, and fail miserably, to ram through constitutional reforms without first settling the basics of political accord?

Let us start this discourse with one basic reality. That while democratic constitutions such as ours are sacrosanct, they, nonetheless, are neither holy writ nor divine edicts like the Bible or the Quran. They can be made, unmade and remade. Of course with good reasons.

That is why every Constitution normally provides for its own amendment, or even replacement.

A good illustration of this is the American Constitution, which has pretty much been the yardstick for many libertarian constitutions since it was pieced together in such stirring fashion and adopted on September 17, 1787 at the Constitutional Conference in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, coming into effect on March 4, 1789.

 It has since been amended 27 times, though it is noteworthy that over 10,000 amendments have been introduced in Congress since 1789.

But the key point to note here is the timing of the maiden change. The first ten amendments were proposed by Congress on September 25th, 1789 - just six months after the Constitution came into effect.

Against this kind of precedent, the argument that it is too soon to consider changes to our Constitution is, to say the least, pedestrian.

Quite to the contrary, the time is perfect to have a serious national conversation about this Constitution that is due to celebrate a 4th anniversary in August.

“The time is always right to do what is right”, that is how Martin Luther King would have put it. I say the time is right to sit and reason together.

And as we do so, may we find inspiration in these words of John Fitzgerald Kennedy, America’s 35th President: “The problems of the world cannot possibly be solved by skeptics or cynics whose horizons are limited by the obvious realities.

We need men who can dream of things that never were and ask “why not?”

In this task we must appreciate that no single individual, howeverpowerful, no single political formation, however influential, no single community, however populous, will achieve much on their own.

The process must be inclusive. It must be sober. It must be honest. It must be objective.

And it will take leadership that is prepared to rise above the mundane and the myopia of fixation with scoring cheap political goals.

King teaches that “ultimately a genuine leader is not a searcher for consensus, but a molder of consensus”, adding that “we must live together as brothers or perish together as fools.”

Let us start with a bipartisan initiative in Parliament, then move on to the political leadership of the Jubilee and CORD coalitions. Am ready to sit and reason. Are you?

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