Politics hinders constitutional reform, Kenyan commission says

By Rajab Ramah in Nairobi

November 08, 2012

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Elements within the Kenyan government are a major challenge hindering the effective implementation of the constitution, the Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) said in its annual report.

  • Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) chairman Charles Nyachae (left) greets CIC representatives at the launch of the commission's annual report. [Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution/File]

    Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) chairman Charles Nyachae (left) greets CIC representatives at the launch of the commission's annual report. [Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution/File]

The 2011-2012 report, released October 30th, provides an overview of the progress made by government institutions in reforms adopted in the 2010 constitution.

CIC chairman Charles Nyachae said there are several areas that have seen positive change, such as openness and transparency in governance, increased accountability of public officials, reforms in existing public institutions and the creation of new ones, and increased public participation in governance.

The progress made so far in these areas is clear proof that Kenyans have begun to reap the fruits of the new constitution, Nyachae told Sabahi.

However, he said irregular amendments by the executive and legislature to alter the content of some of bills already finalised by the CIC and the Kenya Law Reform Commission are problematic and erode the gains made so far.

Nyachae singled out the Leadership and Integrity Act 2012, a bill that initially called for the vetting of all candidates running for public office. But after irregular amendments sponsored by the president and parliament were introduced, the effectiveness of the law was watered down. The CIC has since moved to challenge the lawmakers' changes on that bill in court.

In addition, the report said attempts to mislead the public on some constitutional issues are also hindering the implementation of constitutional reforms.

"There were some instances in which some politicians attempted to mislead the public on aspects of the implementation of the constitution," the report said. "These included instances of use of hate speech, attacks on constitutional offices, and disregard of the authority and mandate of constitutional offices."

"Such action led to anxiety and uncertainty that risk compromising implementation, such as regarding the date of election, for example," it said.

Nyachae said this challenge can be overcome through civic education and an increased public awareness about the constitution, especially in rural areas.

"There is a need to enhance public participation in the process, but this can only be achieved through a structured and continuous public engagement as envisaged in the constitution," Nyachae said.

Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Eugene Wamalwa did not comment on allegations that parliament and other elements within the government are sabotaging constitutional reforms. However, he told Sabahi that it is up to Kenyans to give life and meaning to the constitution by living by its tenets and upholding the values and principles enshrined in it.

Wamalwa challenged the public to focus efforts on understanding the constitution and spreading its values and principles in their private and public lives.

"In that effort my ministry has rolled out KNICE -- the Kenyan National Integrated Civic Education programme -- to empower every Kenyan to actively and constructively participate in this process," he said.

Reverend Timothy Njoya, a member of the Constitution and Reform Education Consortium (Jukwa La Katiba), said public engagement on the constitution is limited because most civilians do not understand vast portions of the document.

"For Kenyans to appreciate the gains made and to be able to reap the fruits of the new constitution as well participate in its implementation fully, they must be aware of the contents of the constitution and what is expected of them in the new dispensation," Njoya told Sabahi, adding that the government should take responsibility and carry out civic education especially in the country side.

An informed public is crucial to promoting public participation in the implementation of the constitution, Njoya said.

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