The 20-year push by diplomats

Saturday August 7 2010

“We congratulate Kenya and pledge support for the implementation of the new constitution through bilateral assistance. Kenya has set a good example for many African countries,” Turkish envoy Tuncer Kayala. PHOTO/FILE

“We congratulate Kenya and pledge support for the implementation of the new constitution through bilateral assistance. Kenya has set a good example for many African countries,” Turkish envoy Tuncer Kayala. PHOTO/FILE 

By DAVID OKWEMBAH

It has been a love-hate relationship between diplomats and the government since the quest for a new constitution started more than 20 years ago.

During the heady days of Kanu and President Daniel arap Moi’s regime, western diplomats were a loathed lot by government, as they demanded for the opening of the democratic space in Kenya.

It all started with Smith Hempstone when he was posted to Nairobi by the Republican Party government led by the senior George Bush.

A former journalist, Mr Hempstone had little respect for diplomatic etiquette and chose to voice his criticisms and suggestions openly.

His suggestion in May 1990 that Kenya should practise multi-party politics to attract US aid was rebutted by a terse statement from the only party at the time.

“Kenya’s political system and democracy have evolved from Kenya’s own history and can only be perceived and characterised within the totality of the Kenyan context,” wrote the then Kanu secretary general Kalonzo Musyoka.

The Gulf War in August forced Washington to reduce the pressure as Bush had to cut a deal with Moi for its forces to use military bases along the Indian Ocean coast.

But as Washington’s influence waned, Bernd Mutzelberg from Germany ensured that the fire was kept burning.

Until the repeal of Section 2A in 1992 to allow multi-partyism, the push for a new constitution was mainly shepherded by western diplomats and a few radical lawyers and others from public universities.

Lawyer Paul Muite, who was involved in the struggle for multi-partyism, acknowledges the role played by the international community and especially diplomats.

“They (western diplomats) prodded us to build consensus,” said the former Kikuyu MP.

Corruption

With Moi and Kanu out of the way after the 2002 General Election, it was assumed that the camaraderie between the opposition leaders who were now occupying State House and western diplomats would be extended further.

After just a year in office, President Mwai Kibaki’s government was again caught on the wrong side of the western diplomats- this time it over corruption.

The United Kingdom envoy Sir Edward Clay took on the Kibaki government over the Anglo Leasing project.

The frosty relations with the Kibaki administration and the diplomats had thawed by the time Kenya went to the 2007 elections.

Kenya had to fall back to the international community through its diplomats in Nairobi to get on the road to recovery.

Mr Muite notes that it is often forgotten that the delivery of a new constitution was part of the Agenda 4 items Kenya had agreed with the international community.

He however says that although the international community had unfinished business in Kenya, the new constitution reflects the views of Kenyans.

Central Organisation of Trade Unions secretary general Francis Atwoli concurs. “This document is homegrown and reflects the views of Kenyans,” he said.

Imenti Central MP Gitobu Imanyara, who was incarcerated for advocating for multi-party democracy, lauded the role the international community had played to assist Kenya get a new set of laws.

He said the next two years are going to be crucial as the new constitution is implemented.

“We hope the international community will hold our hand as we take our very first steps in implementing this document,” he added.

Turkey, through its ambassador, Tuncer Kayalar, congratulated Kenya and pledged support for the implementation.

The ambassador said Kenya had set a good example for many African countries.