Free at last, from the tyranny of the State

Thursday August 26 2010

Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Photo/FILE

Prime Minister Raila Odinga. Photo/FILE 


On Friday, August 27, 2010, the old order has died and a new one born in our country. Our imprisonment in the colonial constitutional dispensation is over. The Imperial Presidency that the post-colonial regimes have created is now buried in history. A grand new republic — Kenya’s Second Republic – is born.

The constitution of our new Republic frees and empowers every citizen. We are free from tyranny of the State — police brutality, arbitrary imprisonment, suppression of freedom of speech, unfair taxation. Every Kenyan has the right to be free from hunger, to decent health care and to education.

Every Youth has the right to a job. Every Kenyan who belongs to a marginalised group or has disability has the right to demand affirmative action. Truly democratic values are now imbedded throughout our institution of governance. Not even the President is above the law.

Not even the President enjoys absolute power. Exercise of all authority is subject to checks and balances. All public servants are accountable to the people. Our Constitution creates a state in which citizens are the centre of the moral universe. Moreover, our Constitution brings government close to the people.

Through devolution, powers and resources are dispersed from the Centre to the regions. The people who live in a County decide how they use the resources devolved to them. I am convinced, and constitutional scholars agree, that this is one of the best constitutions in the world.

But our aspirations will not become reality by a stroke of a pen. Kenya is still largely associated with corruption and impunity. Economic crimes such as Goldenberg and Anglo-Leasing have become part of Kenyan lexicon. So have extrajudicial killings, political assassinations, police brutalities and tribal conflicts.

Poverty is still a national scourge. Yet at independence, Kenya was one of the most hopeful nations on earth. It was at par with South Korea. Today, South Korea is one of the top industrialised countries in the world. Kenya is still mired in the Third World. Corruption and abuse of power by political leaders and high officials is to blame.

Mandate to tackle issues

The good news is, the new Constitution gives us a clear mandate to tackle these issues. It is with a new breed of leaders who are truly committed to serve the Nation — and determined efforts by all of us — that our aspirations can become reality. Our new Constitution gives us a start.

It is clear on the values leaders must reflect: patriotism, personal integrity, competence and suitability, democracy and belief in rule of law. All State officers must be objective and impartial, and must not be influenced by nepotism, favouritism or corrupt practices. They are prohibited from participating in any gainful employment other than their public offices.

Our Constitution entrusts the citizens to produce — and sustain — the new breed of leadership that it desires. Citizens are expected to elect the President, MPs, the Governors, and Members of Local Assembly who meet the leadership and integrity requirements of the Constitution. If MPs or Members of Local Assembly do not perform, citizens have the right to recall them.

Through their MPs, citizens also have the right to initiate impeachment proceedings against the President. Moreover, if the President or Parliamentary commissions appoint a State officer who does not fully meet the constitutional leadership and integrity requirements, citizens have the right to institute court proceedings.

Importantly, every citizen has the right of access to information held by the State. This will help the citizens to exercise these and other rights. In a nutshell, the Kenya we enter on Friday has to be a democratic state driven by the conviction that the status quo is unacceptable.

But I emphasise that the new constitution can only bring change if there is a political leadership that is committed to change and has the political will to affect that change. It is my conviction that with the new Constitution, Kenyans will elect leaders who have no vested interests in the current status quo, who are incorruptible, who have integrity and who will swear not to divide Kenya on the basis of ethnicity, race, religion, clan, region, class, gender and generation.

New leadership in Kenya means organising politics on policies, particularly on sustainable development and rights, rather than on what divides Kenya. We have a new slogan in the air; Katiba Mpya, Ungozi Mpya (new Constitution, new leadership). Going forward, I wish to maintain the unity that delivered this Constitution, and to join hands with all reform forces.

I see in this new constitution and the Second Republic that it creates, an enormous potential for our self renewal; our moment to overleap our own failures. I am very hopeful because the Second Republic comes at a time Kenya is alive with creative energy. We have a generation of young people brought up to a cross-cultural cosmopolitanism and who are not held hostage by the past. It is a generation in which you do not detect particularly the sad ethnic and tribal divides that derailed our First Republic.

Stand test of time

This generation is reason enough for me to believe that our Second Republic will stand the test of time. Given the atrocities this nation has survived, I have every reason to believe that the worst is behind us and from now on, it can only get better. We have had some regrettable past full of bitterness and despair.

Yet it is because of that very past that I think the Second Republic will succeed. That past must make us approach the coming of the Second Republic as immigrants from elsewhere who are constructing a new house for ourselves. I have faith that our own past colossal failure will propel us to embrace a new mindset and remake ourselves dramatically.

Mr Odinga is the Prime Minister of the Republic of Kenya

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