Thursday, August 26, 2010
When Kenyans voted for a new constitution on 4 August 2010, they believed in their own minds and hearts that they voted for a New Kenya, a New Dawn and a New Vision. In contrast to the past, they maintained peace, decorum and calm during the campaign period and on the voting day. They clearly despised and shunned the few instances of hate speech and the perpetrators. As it were, the Kenyan people were sending a clear message that the past era was gone and a new dawn had set-in in the country. With the promulgation of the new constitution on 27 August 2010, it is desirable to reflect on the significance of these words.
A New Kenya
The people of Kenya had longed for a new political order for decades. Although many would suggest that the quest for a new constitutional order started 20 years ago, the truth of the matter is that, it goes further back to the days immediately after the independence. Kenyans never liked the way the political elite governed for the past 47 years. They hated the way the elite wrestled political power from the people and converted democratic institutions to vehicles of one-party and one-man dictatorship. In the New Kenya, Kenyans envision restoration of political power to the people and their democratic institutions. Political power no longer should reside in a dictatorial state but in the people of Kenya and peoples’ democratic institutions. This is precisely the strongest assertion the new constitution makes.
The Constitution starts in Article 1 by affirming that the sovereign power resides in the people of Kenya and not the State apparatus and institutions. The State organs and institutions exercise the power as delegated to them by the people in accordance with the constitution. The state organs are there to serve the people not the other way round. The era of people’s subservience to the State has ended. In the new order, there is no room for an imperial president, overbearing executive and parliament and partial judiciary. These institutions have to function within the limits of the powers conveyed to them under the constitution. They must respect the devolution of power and independence of institutions. No constitutional institution is superior to the other as all derive their powers from the people. Nonetheless, the institutions must cooperate in exercise of these powers. They also must act as checks and balances on each other in order to protect peoples’ sovereignty and promote rule of law and constitutionalism.
Independent constitutional institutions and offices such as the National Human Rights and Equality Commission, the Electoral and Boundaries Commissions, the National Land Commission, the Commission on Revenue Allocation, the Salary and Remuneration Commission, the Public Service Commission, the Teachers Service Commission, the National Police Service Commission, the Judicial Service Commission, the Parliamentary Service Commission, the National Police Service, the National Intelligence Service, the Kenya Defence Forces, the Attorney General, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Auditor General and the Controller of Budget all have to work within the limits and confines of the constitution and law. Their purpose is to serve the people and not any particular arm of the government. In the past, most of these institutions purported to serve the whims and interests of the ruling elite. Their objects, as stated in the constitutions, are to protect the sovereignty of the people, secure observance by all State organs of democratic values and principles and promote constitutionalism. Kenyans expect nothing less.
The new Kenya ushers a new era of governance. It is the era of governance through the constitution and institutions. This is in contrast with the past when individuals heading these institutions were bigger than the institutions themselves. In the new Kenya, institutions will no longer be synonymous with individuals. The institutions must carry out their functions independent of the individual leaders.
A New Dawn
A new dawn brings with it new expectations. In Kenya, a new dawn arrived with the voting of the new constitution into law. As the people celebrate the promulgation of the new law, they do so full of expectations of a new era as describe above. They foresee an era of democracy, rule of law, constitutionalism, human rights, and economic-social development and prosperity. However, they are not naive. As the saying goes ‘once bitten, twice shy’, they know that for the new dawn to have meaning, they must remain vigilant and defend the constitution from those who would like to undermine it. As the constitution moves to the implementing stage the people must guard against elements that have always worked against the realisation of the new political and legal order. The populace must identify, shame and shun any person, group of persons or institution that may attempt to circumvent the proper and full implementation of the new constitution. That is the only way the constitution will be a New Dawn to Wanjiku.
A New Vision
In the past, new dawns like the one being experienced now too soon turned into dusk as those entrusted with implementation lost the vision that united them during the struggle. Immediately after independence in 1963, the independence political party, Kenya African National Unity (KANU), lost its vision when the leaders of the struggle and new independent Kenya were engrossed in personal, ideological and ethnic antagonism. The same happened after the historic election of 2002 when National Rainbow Coalition Alliance leaders turned on each other for the same reasons. Personal, ideological and ethnic rivalry did not serve Kenya well in the past and this time round the political leadership must learn from history and avoid such conflicts for the sake of unity and prosperity.
The new constitution encompasses a New Vision of constitutionalism and institutionalism. The full and proper implementation of the constitution is the only guarantee that the New Kenya the people voted for and the expectations of the New Dawn are realised. The political class should not short-circuit the people of Kenya again.
Long Live New Kenya, Long Live New Dawn, Long Live New Vision.