Stanley Alex Njuguna (Kenya, AC 10-12)
Kenya has been for years synonymous with beautiful weather, pristine beaches, a large variety of wildlife and last but not least what is reveled as the 8th wonder of the world, the great wildebeest migration. Moreover, it is also hard to mention marathons from the London to the Boston marathons without bringing into focus the immense talent and domination by Kenyan athletes. For years their large strides have dazzled spectators at the Olympics and in marathons while their ethnic names have left commentators in mouthfuls.
The road to the new constitution can be what you could roughly describe as a marathon paved with years of tribalism, nepotism and corruption for it has taken the country nearly half a century (47 years to be exact).So on August 27th 2010 millions of eager Kenyan’s, the international community, and journalists bated their breathe to watch Wanjiku (name used to describe ordinary citizens) cross the finish line all sweaty, battered and bruised. With the constitution already ratified by a resounding 69% of all voters in the August 4th referendum, the president put pen to paper at 10:26am officially breaking the chains that had held back its citizens for 2 decades.
So you may ask yourself why the new constitution is so important and instrumental to the future of Kenya. Why is it such a big deal? And what changes are there from the previous constitution that spells so much hope for future generations? Well basically the main changes have happened in; the executive (where powers of the president have been greatly reduced), the judiciary and the decentralization of funds.
With the previous constitution being adopted immediately after independence and coups mushrooming in many African countries post independence, the constitution called for an autocratic form of leadership with an imperial president. The powers of the president raked far and wide but by far the most important being his powers to appoint anyone to any post; be it a cabinet minister, the attorney general, director of public prosecution or even the chief of police without any justification to any organization even if the appointee did not meet the professional qualifications. This led to years of corruption, tribalism, nepotism and a great deal of mismanagement of public funds since more often than not the office holders had no professional qualifications. Sometimes when these political big wigs had taken their selfish interests too far the protesting public and activists in the streets would be given ‘friendly pats on the back’ by the canes, bats and teargas of the police deployed by the chief of police (another presidential appointee).the president unfortunately also had the powers to influence the laws passed in parliament. As chair of the cabinet meetings he would rally ministers with the threat of dismissal to shoot down motions or he would rally members of parliament to shoot down motions with a promise of ministerial positions. Therefore in summary, the president made all the decision and was not accountable to any institution as he controlled all institutions through the powers of appointment and dismissal.
The new constitution however puts in place checks and balances ensuring a more democratic and fair society. As well as demanding qualifications for office holders; all presidential appointees have to meet the approval of the national assembly. Since the new constitution also provides that all the cabinet secretaries (cabinet ministers under the previous constitution) must not be members of parliament and have to be approved by the national assembly it ensures a standard of professionalism, preventing the use of the position as a trump card. With our public funds in the hands of qualified people, this new law will bring a tsunami of change across the political and economic arena. Also with the change from imperialistic society will serve to instill a level of accountability in our leadership.
Great strides have also been made to improve the judicial system under the new constitution. For a long time justice has been elusive to the ordinary citizens, with money, tribes, family connections and political affiliations being the ultimate decision maker in someone’s fate. The culture of corruption has led to a backlog of cases that have nearly brought the judicial system to its knees making it almost impossible for cases to be heard on a timely basis. The process of selecting judges was not also above reproach as the chief justice, the high court judges and the court of appeal judges were all appointed by the president.
Trying to get the gears of justice turning again, in the new constitution, the chief justice is nominated by the president on recommendation by the judicial service commission(made up of the attorney general, chairman of the public service commission and other judges all of whom must be approved by the national assembly)and approved by the national assembly. To curb corruption parliament are to enact a legislation to vet all judges so that any judge who has in the past been linked to graft could be dismissed and prosecuted. To ease the backlog of cases the judiciary under the new constitution is funded directly from the consolidated fund of the state allowing them to expand infrastructure as they deem fit and therefore improve its services.
Decentralization of public funds is also a key step that has been taken with the adoption of the new constitution. Formerly a huge chunk of all public funds would be spent majorly around the capital, Nairobi, and other major towns. This led to centralization of industries all around the towns with serious underdevelopment in the suburbs. Needless to say it has led to large rural-urban migration and has led to creation of large slums close to the towns that are now dens for drug trafficking, prostitution and gang violence. In the new constitution, however, in order to achieve greater regional development 47 counties have been created. The post of governor and senator have also been created with the former being the head of the county and the latter the representative of the county in the senate. With at least 15%of all government revenue expected to stream into the counties the governor and an elected county assembly will decide how best to spend the money. The governor and his county government are in-charge i overseeing the development of agriculture, health, transport and trade. This provides the counties with an opportunity to specialize on what they can produce best and increase trade between counties. To ensure that no money allocated to counties falls victim to sticky fingers, the county’s finances will be scrutinized by the controller of the budget and auditor general. Plans are also underway to enact a law that bars current members of parliament from vying for the post of governor and introduce professional qualifications for the post. This will ensure a class of professionalism in the post and hopefully bring equitable regional development.
And so on August 27th as praises, accolades and messages were sent to Kenya for taking a large stride towards reform the President Mwai Kibaki was quick to echo what was in the messages sent from president Obama and Ban Ki Moon that a lot of work was to be done if the dreams of our forefathers was to be archived. The national assembly must before 2012 (year when next elections are being held) pass numerous legislations. Hopefully this will be done by the re-energized patriotic people of Kenya who would want the country to continue in its march forward and hopefully archive our vision 2030 goal of being a ‘newly industrializing middle-income country providing all its citizens with a high quality of life’ .For me just like all the other Kenyan citizens we will continue to believe in the dream of a better future that can be done, should be done and will be done!
-United World Colleges Student Magazine-