Opponents of new law also have a role to play

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By Mzalendo Kibunjia

As the debate on the implementation of the new Constitution is slowly taking a centre stage, debates have already started on whether those who were on the No side should be part of the implementation process. 

We at the National Cohesion and Integration Commission  are of the opinion that as we enter into the new era in our history,  the implementation organs at all levels should reflect the face of Kenya and therefore the talk of having the opponents of the Constitution locked out of key implementation organs goes contrary to the spirit of the Constitution that calls for inclusivity.

The idea that the winner takes all has been the cause of a myriad of problems in the country’s political history. It is important to note that those who opposed the constitution were not happy with a small percentage of the document and this does not mean they cannot offer positive assistance in the implementation of the document, and in any case even the proponents of the Constitution were of the view that the document had a number of flaws.

Kenyans need to learn from history how such processes have been used before to divide the country on ethnic lines and we should not repeat that in this time and age.

For historical purposed, prior to the establishment of colonial rule, many communities in Kenya lived separately and were led independently without a centralised authority governing all of them. With the onset of colonial rule, all the communities were brought together under the colonial government and were governed under the stewardship of the governor.

The new system instead of uniting Kenyans and instilling a sense of nationhood and common belonging was instead used by the colonial government who did everything to keep these ethnic groups divided through the well known divide and rule policy. This involved playing one ethnic group against another, stereotyping ethnic groups; introducing economic and social policies and practices that discriminated against different ethnic groups.  Some areas were more developed than others, schools and other social services were distributed unevenly along ethnic lines. As a consequence there were ethnic and regional disparities.

The highest point of this divide and rule policy was represented by the policy that required political associations to be district based. This led to lack of political unity. The colonial government was afraid that it would lose control and increase the struggle for independence. These policies unfortunately were continued in the greater part of our independence history beginning with Sessional Paper No 10 of 1965 which institutionalised the exclusion of Northern Kenya. This is what has divided Kenya into two, the North and the South.

Fortunately after World War II and as a result of developments in the international arena, Kenyans realized that they needed to be united in order to get rid of the colonialists. Therefore a strong sense of nationalism among indigenous Kenyans emerged leading to the formation of two national parties – Kenya African National Unity (KANU) and Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU).

These parties brought together all district associations that had been initially accorded by the colonial authorities. This strong sense of nationhood led Kenyans to end colonialism.

Kenyans had therefore hoped that they would move together with this sense of unity to tackle the many development challenges such as disease, hunger, illiteracy and so on.

Unfortunately the immediate post colonial leaders did not put in place mechanisms to maintain this unity; instead they concentrated on consolidating their hold on power. As a result , Kenyans started to put a premium on their ethnic identities and this trend continued for many years until and found easy expression in the events after the 2007 elections.

Fortunately the new Constitution that was endorsed by Kenyans has recognised major areas that are responsible for lack of unity in this country and has addressed them.  Right from the preamble, the new Constitution expresses the pride of the Kenyan people of their ethnic and racial diversity, and their aspirations to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation as well their desire to be governed by an authority that is based on a number of essential values including equality.

For the first time as well, the Supreme law of the land recognises and will seek to positively promote the ethnic, religious, and racial diversity of the people of Kenya, a situation that will lead to increased knowledge by the Kenyan people of the different cultures within the country and as a result break down barriers of fear that lead to distrust and disharmony among the different ethnic communities.

The Bill of Rights in the new Constitution which has been heralded as one of the best in the world provides for a number of freedoms which when exercised by the Kenyan people will lead to increased unity among them and a greater sense of nationalism and inclusion. Of particular importance to National Cohesion and Integration Commission are the provisions relating to political rights and freedom of movement and residence. As was witnessed after the 2007 poll and in some areas in Kenya in the run up to the 2010 Constitutional Referendum, a number of communities were made to feel they did not belong in certain areas as they held different political views from the majority in the area. 

With the movement of governance from a unitary system to a devolved system of governance, Kenyans now have the opportunity to directly participate in their governance.  The residents of the counties will have the opportunity to elect an assembly, governor and deputy governor with the governor choosing up to 10 members for the county’s executive committees. The residents of each county have therefore to be vigilant to ensure that the counties do not become tribal cocoons. They must ensure that they elect leaders who are of integrity, who promote national values and who accept diversity and uphold the rule of law.

In implementing the Constitution, it is important that we all advocate for an inclusion mechanism whereby minority communities in counties that have a dominant and a minority ethnicities do feel that they can contribute ideas without any fear as well as have political representation that is credible and equitable.

(The writer is the Chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission)

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