Invite Wanjiku to the Constitutional Talks


Invite Wanjiku to the Constitutional Talks

Original by Rose K. Owino

One very important delegate was missing when delegates to Kenya’s National Constitutional Conference met for the first and the second sittings at the Bomas' talks. Her name is Wanjiku.

The fictional woman created to represent the average Kenyan was never offerred an opportunity to take a seat in the hearts and minds of each delegate during deliberations.

As tempers soured and emotions flared on issues as diverse as the creation of the post of prime minister, the kadhis courts and land - not to forget the demands for allowances - Wanjiku was relegated to spectator status while recommendations were made to a constitution created in her name.

Delegates have genuine grievances borne out of a history of decades of bad governance. The reality is that all delegates and those they represent can legitimately claim marginalisation on ethnic, nepotistic, economic, race, gender, rural-urban, religious, geographic, different ablity, age, marital status - the forms of marginalisation are innumerable. We are all marginalised on some gradient or another.

The only space left is to start from zero and build a document that will fulfil on the expectations and ambitions of the average Kenyan - Wanjiku - who represents us.

Who is Wanjiku?

Using statistical data compiled by the /Institute of Economic Affairs /it is clear Wanjiku lives in rural Kenya in a traditioanl house where she raises her four or five children on a monthly income of about kshs. 2000/=. Her income comes from working her small holder farm and she sells and barters the agricultural produce for what she needs. Wanjiku can read and write although she probably did not complete high school. Given the lack of of health facilities and the incidence of HIV/Aids she is likely to die by the time she is 55. Until then, she oscillates between the edge of survival and outright poverty. The search for firewood and water continue to consume many hours of her productive day.

As things stand all Wanjiku’s children are looking towards a life exactly the same as that which brought their mother to where she is.

Will this constitution change anything for them? That is the question that delegates must answer as they reconvene at the Bomas of Kenya for the second leg of negotiations towards a new constitution.

If it is is to be a valid document it must answer the needs of millions of Wanjiku’s and not those of the 600 odd delegates representing them.

Basic rights - food, health, education, security - are the foundation for everything else.

That is not to say that an item such as the organisation of government is not important. It is important only in the context of Wanjiku’s life. The president and prime minister Wanjiku asked for when the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission sought input across the country must serve Wanjiku. Whoever the holders of these positions are they must remain responsive and accountable to her through provision of adequate checks and balances that ensure she will never again have to face the raw unyielding and sometimes cruel power of the executive which was seen in forced harambees for dubious projects, arbitrary arrests, torture and detention, unilateral, uncaring , political decision-making and wild public spending with little development impact.

The current debate on who will occupy the seat is irrelevant to everyone other that the political types aspiring to those positions. We cannot create constitutional offices with people in mind nor entrench structures that serve the political interests of a restricted few.

Likewise the hot issues of the Kadhi’s courts. Rather than whipping up religious emotions it will be important to look at this in the context of what millions of Wanjiku’s want and would be willing to accomodate as they have for the past 40 years. Would it be a priority for Wanjiku to remove these rights from muslims?

There is a a world of learning available from the constitutions of other countries and from the constitutional advice of local and international experts. This expert advice has its place and is irrepacable. It is however, only advice.

At the end of it all the paramount concern is that we sit and agree on a constitution that works for each and every Kenyan, a constitution which we collectively agree to obey and which Wanjiku will not agitate to change again before the ink has dried on the first copy.

If Wanjiku occupies the central seat at the Constitutional Tals, if she is referred to as each word and each article is discussed, then we will arrive at a constitution that guides us on how to share our resources to ensure that no-one is left without the basics. This constitution will guide us on how we negotiate and resolve our internal conflict on a continuing basis.

It will be a document that defines how we agree to live together in mutual respect as Kenyans. It will be a document that we will be ready to die defending.