What to do next?
When will Kenya get a new constitution? This question has been asked frequently since last November when the historic referendum was concluded., at which the draft constitution published mid-last year was rejected by slightly more than half the Kenyans who voted.
Following the rejection of the draft, the constitutional review process, stretching all the way back fifteen years, was thrown into yet another quagmire. Concerns were immediately raised over whether the government would still remain committed to the review process having ‘lost’ at the November plebiscite. Some even predicted that the government would retaliate politically by using the (old) constitution to weld sweeping dictatorial powers.
Many saw the rejection of the draft as the end of the journey to a new constitutional dispensation. Other viewed the whole affair as a big waste considering that an estimated six billion shillings had already been sunk into the review process up to the referendum.
It was perhaps such concerns that President Kibaki sought to address when, in his New Year message to the nation, he reiterated his government’s commitment to putting the review wagon back on track. This move received plaudits from across the political divide. But his initial suggestion that the whole process start from scratch under the stewardship of a panel of experts received criticism. The government later clarified the matter when it announced that the revived review process would be limited to the contentious issues and that the expert’s mandate would revolve around ironing out the contentious issues and helping to rework the rejected draft.
It is to the credit of the Kenyan people, however, that we were able to hold a peaceful referendum thus defying all predications that the country would degenerate into chaos if one of the other side lost. The maturity with which Kenyans conducted themselves both before and after the referendum was a signal that democracy has, after all, been taking root in this country.
Although the draft constitution was rejected, the referendum was a major milestone in the quest for a new political, social and economic dispensation. The rejection should not be viewed as a failure rather as a triumph for democracy and the Kenyan people. It was this opportunity to exercise our sovereign right to decide how we should be governed that we had all along been fighting for. That opportunity came and we seized it.
The referendum was indeed the culmination of a long struggle by the people of Kenya to be heard. There were many times in the past when it appeared as though this struggle had hit an insurmountable rock only to turn, meander round the obstacle and move on. Which is why to some, the rejection of the draft constitution initially had all the semblance of a decisive setback.
Such pessimism had always dogged our struggle for a new constitution perhaps out of the fact that this struggle had come down a difficult and sometimes treacherous path. But history was always kind to us for the pessimism always turned out to be short-lived.