When the Supreme Court of Kenya rendered its decision in the 2017 presidential election petition, the then Chief Justice David Maraga made the now famous statement that ‘the greatness of a nation lies in its fidelity to the Constitution and adherence to the rule of law and above all respect to God.’
That statement has rung true since August 9 this year when Kenyans went to the polls to elect their next leaders.
The Supreme Court has again been called to decide on a presidential election petition. The run-up to that petition has revealed several things that the court’s verdict alone should not make us forget. First, is the importance of the 2010 Constitution, a document that has been celebrated for its far-sightedness, resilience and transformative nature.
The fact that Kenyans have come out of this presidential election and the ensuing dispute peacefully thus far is a testament to the faith that citizens have in the Constitution and not individuals.
If it were not for the robust mechanisms put in place as part of the architectural design for the governance framework for the country under the social contract that Kenyans gave themselves in August 2010, the events following the elections would not have followed the same path.
Moving forward we must rededicate ourselves to the ideals of the Constitution. Every Kenyan should read and internalise what the document expects of us, commit to applying its provisions even more and importantly seek to hold other citizens to the letter and spirit of the Constitution.
Enforcing adherence to the doctrine of constitutionalism cannot be a task that is left to the Judiciary. It demands of others the same responsibility. It is our greatest defence against anarchy or autocracy.
Respect to the Constitution is not a task for the other person or institution. It may seem to be an inconvenience at times, yet our prosperity as a democracy is predicated on the commitment that, whatever the circumstances, we always will operate within the confines of the hallowed document that we adopted after many years of agitation and intense public debate.
Any efforts to depart from this ideal is a threat to the very foundation of the Kenyan state and is a road that all citizens must resist, however tempting it may sound at any given point in time.
The other issue relates to our electoral democracy. I spent the past week and some days in Sweden on an educational exchange visit. During my stay, as we were deep into the discussions around the petition, Sweden was weeks away from its elections.
Yet the contrast between the electoral environment of the two countries could not have been starker in my mind. While ours continued to be heated, in Sweden life went on as usual. At one point we passed through booths for early voting and saw a few citizens get into them and cast their ballots.
The rules about the voting process are elaborate but what is critical is the relaxed way the event is conducted. This is markedly different from our high-stakes electoral contest.
It is important that we ask ourselves what we can do moving forward to reduce the stakes over our elections. The politicians will not do this for us. They thrive in the kind of environment we have.
While elections are a sacred duty through which we get to exercise our sovereignty as captured in Article 1 of the Constitution, its conduct should not be a do or die affair every electoral cycle.
It should be possible to discharge our responsibility peacefully, quickly and without too much fuss to enable citizens go back to their daily lives and those elected to get to serve the country and lead in solving the huge challenges facing the country. This must be our collective homework moving forward.