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A second rebirth! At last, after a 20-year-long hard struggle that saw scores of political activists, university dons and human rights defenders bludgeoned and maimed, Kenya now has a new constitution. And what excitement took over Nairobi when the new supreme law was promulgated on 27 August. Wanjohi Kabukuru reports.

WITH A STROKE OF HIS pen, amidst a passionate crowd, President Mwai Kibaki, an active figure throughout most of Kenya's 47-year history since independence, ushered in the Second Republic on 27 August 2010.

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After a 20-year struggle for a new constitutional order--a struggle that saw scores of political activists, university dons and human rights defenders bludgeoned and maimed--Kenyans rose to the occasion on 4 August when 6,092,593 of them voted overwhelmingly to endorse a new constitution for the country. Some 2,795,059 voted against it.

Three weeks later, the new constitution was promulgated into law in a ceremony never before witnessed in Kenya. The Promulgation Ceremony at the aptly named Uhuru (Swahili for freedom) Park, with a full military parade in tow, saw Kenya say goodbye to the British-engineered Lancaster Constitution of 47 years ago whose first draft, according to President Kibaki, had been scripted in "a bar in downtown Nairobi".

To President Kibaki, the new constitution evoked and yet overshadowed the memories of his youth in Kenya's First Republic which began in 1963. Adorned with the country's highest honour, the Chief of the Golden Heart (CGH), which had never been seen in public before, Kibaki thundered: "This moment marks the decisive conclusion of the 20-year journey in search of a new constitutional order. This new constitution is an embodiment of our best hopes, aspirations, ideals and values for a peaceful and more prosperous nation. It gives us renewed optimism about our country and its future.

"Some of us were present at the birth of the First Republic. As young leaders, we envisioned turning our newly-born country into a developed nation in a generation or two. A lot has been achieved towards this goal, but much more work needs to be done. As Kenyans we should be proud of making history, as one of the few nations in the world that have successfully replaced their constitution in an atmosphere of peace."

In a ceremony estimated by the Kenyan police to have attracted a gathering of some 500,000 people, and streamed live on TV, radio and the internet, Kenya was reborn.

The event was witnessed by regional leaders such as Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Abdallah Sambi of the Comoros, and Omar El Bashir of Sudan. Former Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and key representatives from Ethiopia, Somalia and the Seychelles were also present.

Kenya surely rocked on that day and it is still rocking today. An ebullient Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose family has been involved in the struggle for Kenya's open society, was not left behind. In a speech that excited the crowd, he intoned:

"No one could have thought that out of the bitter harvest of the disputed election [of December 2007] and the violence that pitted our people against each other just two years ago, we would be witnessing today the birth of a national unity that has eluded us for more than 40 years.

"Today we close a long chapter in our history. We put repression, exclusion and heroic struggle behind us once and for all. We have opened a clean new page in our book. On that page we begin writing the story of an equal and just society."

And Odinga was not finished: "We gather here," he continued, "to ratify the pledge we made to ourselves and to the world, that Kenya shall redeem herself and extend the frontiers of democracy and freedom ... The promise of this new beginning will be challenged by our traditional enemies; corruption and negative ethnicity. We must be vigilant and stop corruption from stealing our future and negative ethnicity from weakening our nationhood."

The new constitution's key highlights include a significant redistribution of powers and instituting checks and balances to curb the excesses of the presidency. It has seen Kenya become a federal state in all but name with 47 counties, which will be administered by elected governors.

There will be a two-tier representative system providing for a parliament and a senate; and a judicial system with the Supreme Court at the apex.

The other notable aspects include dual citizenship, the enshrinement of fundamental rights and freedoms, land rights for all, redress for historical injustices, and the Commission on Revenue Allocation whose mandate is to ensure equitable sharing of revenue raised by the national government and counties.

It is these hallmarks and the changing of Kenyatta Day (celebrated every 20 October) to Mashujaa (Heroes) Day that have raised optimism among Kenyans.

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So why would the world in general, especially US President Barack Obama, be excited about Kenya's new reforms; to the extent of Obama sending his vice president, Joe Biden, to Kenya and letting the US ambassador campaign for the new constitution?

Hear Joe Biden: "Putting in place a new constitution and strengthening your democratic institutions in the rule of law will further open the door to major American development programmes such as the Millennium Challenge and will bring about re-investment by American corporations and international organisations in Kenya."

This, he added, "can provide millions of dollars in assistance, and grants ... As I told the president and the prime minister, Americans want to do business here in Kenya. I can tell you, when these reforms take place, you will find a completely different atmosphere about investment in this country."

As opposed to the Lancaster Constitution, Kenya's new supreme law is exhaustively inclusive and said to be "the most consultative ever in the world".

Said a happy President Kibaki: "The constitution is about the Kenyan people. Our constitution review process has been one of the most intense and consultative in the history of constitution making. It is therefore a product of the common will of the people."

Though many political pundits have said that the passing of the new constitution has cemented Kibaki's legacy, he has downplayed the notion:

"I must emphasise that a new constitution is not about Mwai Kibaki. By 2012, I will have done my bit for this great republic of Kenya. The new constitution is about the future. When I read the constitution, I am confident that it will take our country to that future that the Kenyan people envision--a future of great economic prosperity, greater social equity and political stability. We want a country at peace with itself and enjoying great respect among the family of nations."

Incidentally, as the 500,000 Kenyans at Uhuru Park danced and ululated, scores of Western diplomats and human rights activists were livid as Sudan's president, Omar Bashir, paraded on the podium enjoying Kenya's moment in the sun. To them the presence of Bashir at the ceremony was akin to watching the movie How the Grinch Stole Christmas.

Bashir has two International Criminal Court warrants on his head, and his presence at the ceremony was seen by his detractors as unwarranted. But did he spoil the party or was Kenya sending a message to the world?

President Kibaki stoutly defended the decision to invite Bashir. "It is my wish that the international community would appreciate the delicate situation of Sudan and act proactively," said Kibaki. "We should not isolate the people of Sudan. Let us encourage them to play their rightful role in the community of nations."

Kibaki was supported by the African Union and Rwanda.
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Title Annotation:Kenya
Author:Kabukuru, Wanjohi
Publication:New African
Date:Oct 1, 2010
Words:1238
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