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Elites have hijacked constitution making

By Julie Masiga | October 20th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

The good thing about Kenyans in leadership is that they often stick to the same script. The players may change from time to time, but the game remains the same. This applies to every level of political engagement

What we’re witnessing with the Building Bridges Initiative is not new. The reggae shenanigans are straight from a playbook that existed even in pre-colonial times when representation – what we’re now calling ‘inclusivity’ was front and centre. At that time, black Africans had to fight for the right to form parties; they had to fight to have a say in the running of their own lives and their own country.

The clamour for Africans to ‘share in the prosperity’ of their lands and resources eventually led to a debate around the drafting of a constitution. That was circa 1960. Ever since then, Kenya’s supreme law has gone through a series of tweaks and adjustments. Most of these changes were made to accommodate powerful men who wanted to consolidate their positions as Kenyans of means and influence.

It used to be about taking back our own from white settlers and their imperial support system in Great Britain. But then independence came, and the Crown gave the ‘reigns’ to a small group of privileged black men. From then on, constitution-making and remaking became the preserve of an African elite. Men – and a few women -- whose main agenda was either staying within power circles or gaining entry into the fold.  

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It’s not surprising that we find ourselves engulfed by the winds of constitutional change once again. With just over two years to go before Kenya’s next presidential election, the question of Kenyatta’s succession is the subject of debate. The plates of power are shifting, and folks need to get themselves in the best position to succeed him, or at the very least to ensure that they are close to those who can decide in whose hands power will land.

Unfortunately, it is rarely the ‘wananchi’ who decide. With the possible exceptions of the 1991 amendment to repeal Section 2A and the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution, ‘we the people’ are secondary to the constitution-making process.

And even that 2010 Constitution, much hailed as the most progressive in the world, was manhandled before it finally reached the people, with groups and splinter groups jostling to ensure that their interests were represented.

So, here we are, unable to change the station from Reggae FM to something more socially palatable. We are being fed on a steady diet of BBI this, BBI that. We are watching, as we always do, for the dust to settle, and the cards to fall into place. It should be business as usual because the shaping and reshaping of our supreme law has repeated itself throughout our history.

In fact, it precedes the history of our republic. But something doesn’t sit right this time around. The open defiance of socially acceptable norms, blatant disregard of the rule of law (the folks holding rallies, we see you), belligerent political posturing, and reggae everywhere, do not bode well for a peaceful election cycle. After Covid-19, that’s the last thing Kenya needs.

What bothers me the most is the selfishness of it all. The absolute disregard for the wellbeing of ordinary citizens. Citizens who don’t ask for much, always get less. It is not fair. No one knows what’s contained in that much-anticipated BBI report. Still, the very fact that we have been kept in the dark, despite assertions that we were ‘included’ in the report-making process, is an injustice in itself.

We are often described as resilient people. Kenyans can survive anything, they say. In fact, they thrive in hardship. That may be true, but it’s not right. We should not have to mark our years with unnecessary sorrows. Life should not be about bare minimums in a country that has so much untapped potential. And politics should not be about the audacity of false prophets and their broken promises.

Around the world, and in countries like Namibia, Democratic Republic of Congo, and Nigeria, citizens are awakening to the fact that life should be more than the struggle. They have come alive to the possibility of change, and have come together to make it happen. We shouldn’t let it get to that breaking point before we wake up and demand from our politicians the service, justice, and leadership we deserve.

Ms Masiga is Peace and Security editor, The Conversation

Building Bridges Initiative Constitution 2010
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