By Flora Igoki Terah, Executive Director, Terah against Terror.
You may call it Rebirth of Kenya, a new dawn for women, or call it Revolution 2010. This has been a long unsatisfactory and painful process of patchwork amendments, an ongoing constitutional struggle, especially since 1991 and the change to multiparty democracy.
This was a country colonized by the British who then left Kenya to the elite to colonize the people. Successive administrations always used the constitution as a political carrot to garner votes from Kenyans who desperately needed a savior. The road to a viable constitution in my country has not has been without bloodshed and death. The previous one was drafted at Lancaster house in 1963 and has been amended several times. This new charter that just passed by a remarkable 72+% votes grants citizens more of a voice in running government by cutting down presidential powers and sharing these with a radically new administrative structure meant to be closer to the grassroots. This is a people-driven constitution because wanjiku (citizens) have given their views about what could change their country and at least get them out of hell.
For the first time in the history of Kenya, the President will not be able to fill the cabinet with his cronies or members of his community since the all cabinet appointments will be vetted by parliament. This will be a great achievement in the struggle to fight corruption; corrupt political patronage has been the order of the day. Scams like Anglo-leasing, golden bag, and the maize scandals were never resolved because the main actors were politically connected. Previously, the president had so much power — the powers to make `same-day’ appointments, the power to sack someone via the media with just a two line statement. The president had powers to appoint the police commissioner, chief justice and the attorney general. Many of the executive’s cronies misused these institutions in what has always been known as `instructions from above’. Cronies could get away with scandals, or they could arrest innocent human rights defenders.
The national assembly will have powers to vet and debate appointments, to trim the bloated cabinet and give citizens the ability to recall parliament members, many of whom have been captured on electronic and print media sleeping during most sessions of parliament, only to awaken when bills to increase their salaries are tabled. This also means there will not be any political rewards by means of appointing friends and relatives to institutions. This may not be achieved soon and that is why we are saying that this new constitution is only getting us out of hell and not taking us all the way to heaven.
Kenya is primarily an agricultural based economy. The Rift Valley is particularly known worldwide for flower exports: ‘no wonder Tony Blair said during the post election violence that Britons should show their support for Kenya by buying more valentine roses’ ’. I truly felt insulted because during Valentine’s Day 2008, lots of women and children died and were displaced by war, so to me this was pure mockery.
Corrupt land cartels have been very divisive on the issue of land. Most of them have chunks of land that they do not use, land that was given to them illegally, while on the other side, we have landless Kenyans who deserve basic social and economic rights. This new constitution will rectify past wrongs and make better use of potentially productive land. The land issue has been part of the reforms promised since the two principals signed an accord to have a government of national unity. Land ownership is one of the issues that has long led to violence and it affects millions of people. Many people were displaced and chased away from the land. It has been a big deal in Kenya and unless resolved it will continue to affect millions of people. The new constitution allows Kenyans to own land anywhere in the country. This new constitution is `pro poor’ and it addresses historic injustices.
On another front, the advancement of women in Kenya was undermined by the fact that women have been unable to meaningfully engage in the decision-making processes that would enable them to enjoy and exercise their fundamental rights. Kenya was lacking the legal infrastructure to ensure the meaningful and effective participation of women. This new charter creates an environment for meaningful participation of women in decision making processes. We women have been historically marginalized and oppressed by the previous constitution; it paid insufficient attention to critical issues affecting women, so for Kenyan women this is truly a new dawn. Promotion of gender equality in this new law will help discard biased cultural practices and attitudes that discriminate against women such as FGM, child marriage, widow cleansing . The history of the women’s movement in Kenya shows that this is attainable, especially after using our numeric strength in passing this new charter
The government has ratified most of the international treaties such as the Vienna Declaration on Human Rights, the Convention on Elimination of All forms of Violence Against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action and the Protocol to the Africa Charter on Human and People’s Rights of Women of Africa. This has been recognized in the new charter so the constitution's implications must be integrated into national development strategies aimed at achieving development targets, including the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). There are also seats set aside for women, even though women like me prefer a fair level playing field which is enough to enable me to sail through to a seat in parliament. Many religious leaders condemned this law, forgetting that the amendments were informed by memoranda that were submitted to the Parliamentary Select Committee by various sectors including the churches. Importantly, there is need for unity among all Kenyans to ensure successful implementation of the new constitution. Our energies at this moment must not be based on who was RED or GREEN but on transforming our economy, so that the Kenya shilling is stable.
The new dispensation takes effect as soon as six months after its adoption. Some of the immediate effects we hope to see are a new chief justice, attorney general and all judges being vetted afresh for competence and probity. The Judicial Service Commission will have to be reconstituted within 60 days after the adoption of this new law (this will also happen with other commissions i.e. lands). So we must remain proactive as citizens of Kenya as we have been the last couple of months, working overtime to specifically spell out women’s demands; encourage and ensure women’s advancement, involvement and participation in leadership and good governance in Kenya. We must not let the big boys start playing yet another game. We have seen the Presidential decrees based on 35% representation, which have never been implemented.
We have to ensure equality in legal, social and economic rights and hold the government accountable. We must see that all gains that are in this new charter are not diluted but implemented. We can only do this by building coalitions and networks to oversee promotion, monitoring and assessing the progress of implementation. It is already widely known that the law has been passed, and now the work begins. It’s time we started, not today but yesterday! We have come out of Egypt and are now heading to Canaan.
God bless my motherland Kenya, God blessed all those who made this happen, and even the few of you who opposed it, it let us work together in peace and harmony to make Kenya the light of Africa. DAIMA MIMI MKENYA!
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