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Changing the Constitution must be in the best interest of Wanjiku

Monday January 14 2019

By BITANGE NDEMO
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Eloquent Laikipia Women Representative, Catherine Waruguru, kicked off the change the constitution debate with a controversial speech in Laikipia last week in which she asked the following questions: what is the meaning of an all-inclusive government? What is the referendum question?

In her speech, she seemed to contradict her own position by warning leaders that if they do not consider all other ethnic groups, it will be a recipe for trouble in the country.

The legislator's displeasure, in her own words, was the persistent reneging of promises by the ''Kikuyu nation''.

Believe it or not, Kenya’s constitutional change is imminent, less than ten years since the it was promulgated.

NOT INCLUSIVE

Although only a few know what changes will be proposed, the general view is that the current Constitution is not inclusive. Representation, a major element of democracy, is said to be lacking. However, the term ''inclusive'' still needs to be defined.

In Parliament, an attempt to ensure equity in the representation of women has been thwarted twice by MPs.

However, all of a sudden, it has become urgent to accommodate those who lose in elections to achieve what is referred to an all-inclusive government.

Such model of governance doesn’t exist anywhere in the in the world outside the socialist countries. If ever it is implemented in Kenya, it will be akin to Kanu’s absolute rule.
Kenya will be the first in the world to try such a model while claiming to be a liberal democracy.

Theoretically, it will not work in a country with multiple minority groups that perpetuate identity politics and fear at the expense of ideology.

The thread that has woven western countries together is the absence of fear and ideology. However, in recent times, immigration has broken the strand and fear is taking root in countries that have had strong institutions of governance.

DYING OPPOSITION

The emerging far-right leadership threatens to destroy these institutions. It is a lesson we ought to learn - that our problem is not the Constitution but the constant fear that we have instilled in our people.

The clamour for multiparty democracy in the 1980's and early 1990's was to have an effective governance system, with checks and balances. The structure we wanted then was one where the ruling class would have an opposition to keep them in check.

Now, if both government and opposition were to be in an inclusive government, many of what was desired will be destroyed. That is why the country must not rush towards making constitutional changes to address citizen indiscipline and political grandstanding that creates fear among the people, causing them to behave irrationally. This is what the National Cohesion and Integration Commission was supposed to do.

FRENCH MODEL

In my view, we have not exhausted all other methods that are likely to bring unity and maintain the necessary checks and balances. We could, for example, try the French model with several rounds of elections.
This would allow every all candidates to run in the first round, followed by a second round, pitting the top two winners against each other. The winner in the second round would then negotiate with losers in the first round to form a coalition.

Such a model would encourage dialogue and give hope to many ethnic groups that often feel left out. The model could create two very strong centres that can enable the creation of another form of governance – rotational presidency – that is prevalent in Switzerland.

CONSTITUTIONAL CHANGE

Whoever is working on constitutional changes must be cognisant of the complaints around the Constitution. For example, leaders in Kajiado have been issuing threats to communities that have invested in the county. Similar complaints have been made in Uasin Gishu, Kwale, Nakuru, Kilifi and Narok.

This problem will escalate, unless it is dealt with through amendments to the Constitution to guarantee natives some sort of leadership rights in exchange for permanent protection of immigrants into those counties and their property.

Major cities like Nairobi, Mombasa, Nakuru and Kisumu can be exempted from such leadership rights.

It does not take a genius to know that in the absence of such rights, the problem will escalate in the future. There are lessons to learn from the Americas where discrimination of Native Americans continues unabatedly in the 21st Century.

We can do better than that by recognising the minorities in this country and giving them a fighting chance to lead within their native land. That too is democracy.

Changing the Constitution is a complex matter and any such move requires wider consultations to foster the notion of representation. Constitutional changes must be seen to benefit the people.
Karl Marx said, ''The oppressed are allowed once every few years to decide which particular representatives of the oppressing class are to represent and repress them.''
We should never create new systems of oppressing the people.

The writer is an associate professor at University of Nairobi’s School of Business. @bantigito