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Yes to law reform, but do Uhuru and Raila really mean what they say?

By Yash Ghai | May 20th 2018 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Looking outside, I found thousands of soaked pedestrians, running as fast as they could in the rain. And I saw that almost all cars had one occupant, or possibly one plus the driver.

The other week, I was in a taxi trying to rush home to avoid the afternoon traffic. But due to the huge number of cars on the road, I considered walking home, but it was raining heavily.

Looking outside, I found thousands of soaked pedestrians, running as fast as they could in the rain. And I saw that almost all cars had one occupant, or possibly one plus the driver.

Could we not solve the problem of the congestion of traffic if we prohibited vehicles with less than four passengers from using the highways during specified hours, and instead use taxis or buses to move around? This approach worked in Singapore and elsewhere. Would our aristocracy prohibit it?

The second thought made me most angry: the rich people were doing alright in their limousines, but the infinitely harder workers were left to walk in the heavy rain, seeing home only in the dark, with the limousines heedlessly splashing muddy water on them.

They may arrive at work completely wet, for a miserable salary. Surely, I thought, we did not adopt the People’s Constitution to increase the disparities between them and the tycoons. Why are our politicians and government doing nothing about these disparities? Have they no sense of the injustices that the poor face daily?

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My taxi driver was moved by my anger, having realised my role in constitution-making, and we changed topic. Like other young people I spend some time with, he was full of anger at the way the politicians, forming ethnic oriented parties, exploit voters of their own tribe. “If only the Constitution had prohibited ethnic parties, we would not have got this manipulation. Parties would have fought on policy issues, and we would have been the better,” he said.

Somewhat, I read to him Article 91 of the Constitution which explicitly prohibits parties based on ethnicity. Of course parties are not explicitly ethnic, but we — including the Independent Boundaries and Electoral Commission (IEBC) and the Registrar of Political Parties — seem unable to work out how to prevent essentially ethnic parties from operating.  

It is now clear that, by and large, politicians care only for themselves. They steal from State coffers or seek bribes from the rich and poor alike. Look at their approval of obscene compensation to former MPs who lost elections, and who doubtless made much money during their terms. They have, for the most part, ignored constitutional values and objectives. This is the basis of the unity among them, regardless of party. And despite manifestos that few read, including politicians, in fact there are no real differences of policy between them.

This is obvious from the camaraderie between members of the two major parties following the handshake. Does the handshake represent nothing more than a settlement of minor differences within the same class regarding the sharing of the loot?


Raila is the most distinguished and thoughtful of politicians. He is committed to constitutional values and objectives, and indeed had a hand in their formulation.

His proposals are wide ranging, though politicians, particularly Deputy President William Ruto and his friends, have interpreted his agenda in terms of their own careers. Ruto no doubt opposes the parliamentary system now (contrary to his position in Bomas) because he sees it as Uhuru Kenyatta’s way to get out of his promise to sponsor his presidential candidacy.

His concerns that the country may not afford the referendum is odd for he has not expressed similar concerns against Parliament for demanding huge post-service sums from the state.

It is true indeed that Raila has proposed important constitutional changes: shift from presidential to prime ministerial system, and the re-organisation of devolution to give people greater power to organise their lives.

Both national and county level politicians are upset purely because the changes would affect them adversely. This again shows the preoccupation of Kenyan politicians with their own benefits — and the barrenness of their politics.

To his list of proposals, I would add the electoral system to the proportional representation as proposed by Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) — much fairer for a multi-ethnic state.

I turn to his other objectives: achieving the values of the Constitution — an approach shown by few other politicians. For all too long, as he and Uhuru remind us in their handshake press release, “Ethnic antagonism and divisive political competition have become a way of life… Our people are crying out for leadership that shows the (constitutional) path to dignity, prosperity and security”. They note also that “Our political system has been unable to respond to feelings of alienation in sections of our people”.

The people have longed for the priorities that Raila and Uhuru have set for the State, assuming the two mean what they say. Among them is social and economic security. Uhuru and Raila favour leadership that makes “a practical effort to ensure that those who are hungry or in distress are aided” — something that politicians never think of.

They also committed themselves to eradicating corruption, recognising that “it destroys lives, public trust and prosperity… It is undermining our public and private institutions, and will destroy them and our aspirations as a nation”.

They also recognised the importance of human rights — our Constitution has perhaps the most extensive and balanced Bill of Rights in the world. To quote them, “There is no Kenyan whose rights should be compromised no matter the interests against them.

Kenyans have struggled hard for these rights and they are not for anybody to take for granted. At the same time, to attain and protect our rights, we must embrace our responsibilities. The two can never be separated if we are to have either”.


Much of the current public debate touches on Raila’s proposals for constitutional amendment. In principle I support them, but my studies have shown that no government in Kenya has shown much regard for the Constitution.

There is so much goodness in the Constitution as it is, that if it were to be honoured and implemented, Kenyans would enjoy a life of freedom, dignity, harmony, social justice, equality, and participation, as citizens of a united country. Maybe we should give Uhuru and Raila the chance to implement the Constitution, and show us theirs are not empty words.


law reform president uhuru kenyatta raila odinga
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