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Start doing what Constitution says

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The tenth anniversary of Kenya’s Constitution was marked last Thursday. FILE PHOTO | NMG

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Summary

  • The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) identified a nine-point agenda but are these all constitutional issues?
  • Do they all require a tinkering with the document or the soul?
  • The focus should be improving the quality of constitutionalism.
  • The last decade has seen a fundamental increase in the levels of awareness on the letter and content of the document.

The tenth anniversary of Kenya’s Constitution was marked last Thursday. While there was no central activity despite the milestone, there were webinars, media talk shows and citizen activities across the country.

There are several views on what progress the country has had in the decade since the promulgation of the Constitution. Despite these varied opinions, the reality is that the work of perfecting the country’s union is a continued assignment. So, what next? This is what should preoccupy our minds over the next days and months.

While there are discussions about amending the charter, on the basis that it is a living document that must continuously be adjusted to reflect realities, the first priority must be to agree on our priorities for the decade, that a reform process must deliver.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) identified a nine-point agenda but are these all constitutional issues? Do they all require a tinkering with the document or the soul?

The focus should be improving the quality of constitutionalism. The last decade has seen a fundamental increase in the levels of awareness on the letter and content of the document. When faced with many situations, citizens cite one article or the other, when government agencies are taken to task over one decision of the other, they resort to the text of the Constitution as a defence.

This is commendable progress. However, as the experience has shown, the text alone does not lead to transformation of the society. An over-focus on the letter of the law without appreciating its context, can lead to frustrations and sometimes regression.

It is important that citizens and State agencies inculcate a culture of constitutionalism, which is living within the confines of the expectation of the document. This will ensure we move away from positivist focus on the wording to living the meaning of the words.

Reforming the software will require the same kind of energy that was employed in civic education on the letter of the document in the past decade.

The second is strengthening institutions. Reforming institutions took centre stage of the past decade, new ones created and older ones restructured.

While progress has been realised, some bad manners persist.

Listening to the complaints about unresponsiveness, rot, and malaise in some government agencies, one would be forgiven for thinking the country still operates under the pre-2010 Constitution.

We must move from reframing to strengthening institutions.

This requires that any changes make the institutions more corporate and fit for purpose. They must deliver on their mandate and be accountable to citizens and not just changing their structure.

Thirdly, there must be enhanced attention to Project Kenya, building a nation as opposed to strengthening ethnic affiliations. This requires identifying the fissures to our national ecosystem and filling them so that we are first and foremost Kenyans.

This cannot be glossed over as it rears its ugly head in many engagements with the political sphere being the most glaring. But it is just an indicator of the levels of tribal animosities that exist in the country.

What measures do we put to ensure that the country and its people are in sync, that the kind of emotions we express on Twitter and during international athletics competition become the norm when defining ourselves as Kenyans much more than the difference between one community and another.

This requires a shift in our investment to the youth and children. They hold the greatest promise in inculcating a culture of Kenyanness and of adherence to the Constitution.

The kind of education that kids get should give priority to teaching the importance of and steps to a culture of living within the dictates of the Constitution.

It goes past the wording of the supreme law to mores. That is the priority for our next decade.