News 2008


We must not waste this opportunity

Daily Nation


13. Feb. 2008

Tuesday marked another milestone in the path towards resolving the political crisis and finding a lasting solution to fundamental problems this country has failed to tackle since independence. The chairman of the negotiation team, Mr Kofi Annan, and panelist Graca Machel shifted base from Nairobiís Serena Hotel, the venue of the talks, to Parliament Buildings, where they addressed an informal session of legislators, updating them about the ground covered in brokering peace and what needs to be done to conclude the exercise.

Top on Mr Annanís agenda was the fact that the countryís problem is political, hence must resolved through a political means. Hence, he rooted for a coalition government to bring together the main parliamentary parties into a power-sharing deal. Additionally, he pitched for constitutional and policy reforms, which among others, encompass a review of land tenure structures and equitable distribution of national resources.

Underpinning this is the concern that the current political dispensation promotes exclusion and marginalisation of groups and consequently, give rise to irreconcilable inequalities that in turn, spurn ethnic, social and even religious conflicts and general disenchantment.

Indeed, consensus is building around the fact that the violence that engulfed the country for most of January was a manifestation of long-held and deeply felt feelings of exclusion arising out of a governance structure that gives everything to the winner. The converse, therefore, is dispersal of executive powers from the imperial presidency, building of strong and independent institutional and legal structures and religious adherence to constitutional stipulations.

Given the prevailing conditions, it is easy to quickly jump onto these proposals and run away with them. But it also at this critical moment that it is imperative that we take time to seriously interrogate every step we make.

The current constitution that has been maligned owes its weaknesses to the short-termist amendments made to it since independence at crucial moments to solve political crisis. For example, when Jaramogi Oginga Odinga formed the Kenya Peopleís Union in 1966 after a dramatic fallout with Mzee Jomo Kenyatta in Kanu, the constitution was quickly amended to compel MPs defecting from their nominating parties to seek a fresh mandate.

Secondly, when the same Mr Odinga and others like the late George Anyona sought to form an opposition party in 1982 to challenge Kanuís hegemony, the constitution was amended to make Kenya a de jure single party. This ushered in the darkest era in Kenyaís political life characterised by mass political detention and unjustified arrests. It was not until the repeal of the infamous section 2A in 1991, which returned Kenya to a multiparty state, that this country breathed a sigh of political relief.

A similar short-cut amendment was made in 1997 under the Inter-Parliamentary Parties Group deal that saw parties cut political deals, including working out a formula for nomination of MPs and members of the Electoral Commission.

With political and constitutional history, we must ask the question: what does a coalition government portend for Kenya? Does that put us on the path for political slide to the dark days of single-party state? Who will check the excesses of the Executive if all parties join the Government?

The other fundamental issue to address is the chemistry of the political parties to work together. Just from the recent history and particularly in lieu of the sudden demise of the National Rainbow Coalition soon after it won the 2002 election, one wonders if the parties can work together. The level of suspicion is high, let alone dislike for each other.

Of course the question of the publicís feelings over the elections must also be taken into account. There is deep feeling of betrayal, disappointment, hopelessness and helplessness. Unless these feelings are dealt with, peace will remain elusive.

We are conscious of the current challenges, including mass displacement and deaths. The constitutional amendments that require to be done now should be to bring peace, but prepare ground for major legal reforms and ultimately fresh elections in a short while to conclusively exorcise the ghost of 2007 poll.