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Rebuilding the nation begins with trust and breaking from the past

A section of Parliament building in Nairobi on January 06, 2017.PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO
A section of Parliament building in Nairobi on January 06, 2017.PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO  

Try as we might, we simply can’t get away from public and political speculation around “the handshake” and its meaning for the future of our politics, the economy and society at large.

As I have argued before, the nine-point agenda that the handshake represents lends itself mostly towards the social vision for Kenya that we have always lacked, the vision of a society of goodwill that is as much at peace and in harmony as we are progressive and prosperous.

Yet the past week has offered a couple of contradictions from our opportunistic politicians.

First, on the matter of constitutional change, it now seems that those who rejected the constitution in 2010 are the same lot most actively resisting its amendment (likely through a referendum) while those who supported it are now rooting for change.

In short, we’re back to our traditional political cacophony.

At this rate, we will be discussing whether or not we need a referendum on whether or not the sky is blue!

Second, and less in the public eye, is the 2018 Statute Law (Miscellaneous Amendments) Bill published in the Kenya Gazette earlier this month.

My understanding of the technical logic of this bill, is that it’s an omnibus effort to fine-tune our existing laws, say, to align with the constitution, correct prior drafting errors, or introduce new provisions in existing laws without fundamentally re-writing them.

In the past decade, however, the bill has tended to serve partisan political interests.

Recall, 2007, when Parliament passed a law that prevented corruption investigations on cases prior to 2003?

Of course not, we were too busy in the savouring the electoral ruckus that ultimately led to our 2007/8 post-election violence.

The trick has always been to introduce the bill when Kenyans have dropped their guard.

No surprises, then, that this latest bill – 150 pages of amendments to almost 60 laws of Kenya - has been issued with the usual dose of “siri-kali”.

Vigilance

This time, however, some have been vigilant. Unions are up in arms over changes to labour laws.

The Kenya School of Law will now be exposed to competition.

There is confusion in the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC) over its removal from the Director of Public Prosecutions’ list of “investigating agencies”.

The National Council for Law Reporting (NCLR) will fall under the Attorney-General while previously, it was an agency linked to the Judiciary.

These are just a couple of the changes the bill captures.

Yet, neither the EACC nor the NCLR changes are explained in the memorandum of objects and reasons that supports the bill.

This legal-political skulduggery negates some of the potentially positive amendments in the bill, such as the creation of a National Integrated Identity Management System under the Registration of Persons Act.

More broadly, does this bill fail the test of public participation that our constitution demands?

Doesn’t participation apply as much to the formulation of law, as it does to review of such law?

Yet again, this leads us to question the role of policy and law making in Kenya. At its simplest, policy promotes good, while law prevents bad.

Policy prevents bad by promoting good, while law promotes good by preventing bad. Why don’t we see and feel this logic in our policy and law making and review?

Hidden hand

Is this the “hidden hand” in the handshake, or is it the hand fighting it?

Let’s think about this as the context, together with matters such as the “Big Four” that will inform President Uhuru Kenyatta’s 2018 State of the Nation address later today.

The law requires that he reports on the state of our national values, the state of our compliance with international commitments (the Miscellaneous Amendments Bill now tempers such commitments in matters of sovereignty, independence and territorial integrity) and the state of our national security.

Now that the 14-person team has been named, many expect that he will use this address to flesh out the detail around the nine-point handshake. I think that should be left to the team just appointed.

So what to expect of Mr Kenyatta in today’s address? Harking back to his call in 2016 towards a national covenant, let this be an address to Kenyans’ hearts and minds, not their shillings and cents.

National values and virtues are a great place to start, social visioning must guide the end we seek.

In between, how we build mutual respect and trust among and between one another. In politics, business and everyday living.

If we are to build a truly inclusive society “with a high quality of life” as Vision 2030 proclaims, we need a true break from our endless “zero-sum” politics, whether overtly or covertly practiced across the nation.

Kabaara is a management consultant

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