African business, politics and lifestyle
Hopes of a nation hinge on a document
On July 7, 1990, fear spread around Kenya. It stretched from the capital, where the opposition had called demonstrations to press for a multi-party system and constitutional changes, right into rural areas.
When a lorry carrying packed milk, under a now long-discarded school-feeding scheme, approached a rural schoolyard during a break, schoolchildren ran into their classrooms because the black stacked crates looked suspiciously like the helmets of armed police.
Some schoolchildren were picked up by their parents from school, too anxious about their safety to let them stay in school.
Opposition leaders and their supporters were beaten up and arrested on the streets by police, forcing some to flee into foreign embassies and into exile in the ensuing crackdown by security forces.
Two decades later, a new constitution is being enacted. It could guarantee the survival of the country by protecting it from intermittent ethnic conflict, a political establishment susceptible to abuse, corruption and the skewed distribution of resources such as land.
The road to this point, for many people, was peppered with heartbreak, because several times the promise of a new constitution and the much-needed new start turned out to be false dawn.
For instance, in 2002, euphoria swept the country with the election of President Mwai Kibaki who, among other promises, ran on a platform of delivering a new constitution within a 100 days of election.
It was another false dawn. Politicians in the ruling coalition accused each other of interfering with the drafting of the constitution in a fight about where executive power should be vested, leading to rejection of a draft that was taken to a referendum in 2005.
The seeds of the post-election violence of early 2008 were sowed in that plebiscite.
Kenyans despaired as communities turned against each other, for backing the “wrong” presidential candidate in the December 2007 polls, shattering the nation’s image of a haven of stability in a region prone to conflicts.
Even after a peace deal was signed, the east African nation became a by-word for election rigging or flawed democracy.
Perhaps this tortured path to the new constitution can explain the patience of voters who braved long queues to cast their votes this month in favour of the charter.
But as the country ushers in the charter with a 21-gun salute, some voices, including one prominent presidential candidate for 2012, are warning the nation has to be vigilant during the implementation period to ensure this is not another false start.
What are your expectations for Kenya’s new constitution? Will the nation’s political class implement it faithfully?
(Photo: Kenya’s Prime Minister Raila Odinga reads the oath of office during the the promulgation of the New Constitution at Uhuru Park in Nairobi. Reuters/Noor Khamis)