“I have stopped reading the newspaper: it is too depressing,” a friend told me some time ago. I don't agree with her decision but I can certainly understand the reason for it. Take last Sunday, May 12th, for example. A special report in the Sunday Nation featured the headline: “View grim for those engulfed in poverty.” It announced that in Kenya “ten million cannot afford a decent meal, adequate health care … or education for their children.” If we care about the fate of our neighbours at all, this news is enough to give us sleepless nights.
This issue of Wajibu is about the constitutional review process going on in Kenya at present. Does this process offer any hope for these ten million poor? If not, the sooner we put an end to it, the better.
The work of the Constitutional Review Commission (CRC in short) is certainly gaining more headlines in the press than the fate of our ten million poor. But opinions about its usefulness are divided: some have called the whole process a charade; others are seeking to use it for their own ends, including that of exacerbating the steep income gap in the country. Still others are genuinely interested in the process and are hoping that the outcome will justify the huge expense the country is putting aside for it.
Whatever the outcome of the CRC's work, there is no question that the process of constitution making is giving Kenyans a chance to be educated about certain basic issues to do with being part of a modern nation. These issues can be reduced to a number of fundamental questions, as follows:
As editor of Wajibu for the last 17 years, it has been my privilege to add much to my fund of knowledge concerning the issues that we have dealt with in this time span. But I have rarely absorbed so much new knowledge as I did this time around.
- What is the use of a constitution?
- What is the connection between a constitution and the provision of basic rights?
- Should constitution making be left to parliamentarians, or to those schooled in constitutional law?
- What should be the content of a constitution?
- Should a constitution ever be amended, and if so, who should do this?
What have I learned about constitutions and constitution making? For one, that constitutions are not something to be trifled with; second, that, if you amend them with an ulterior motive, you may yourself fall in the pit you have dug for others; third, that a constitution can be a powerful instrument for fostering good governance; but, fourth, that here, as in every other area, “eternal vigilance is the price of freedom.” In other words, as one of our contributors has warned us: “A constitution, however well drafted, does not execute itself. It takes political goodwill, commitment and accountability to the public by the government to implement it. It calls for sensitivity, fair play and justice in society. It demands diligent, competent and independent holders of public offices to ensure its enforcement. It requires a citizenry and a government that take rights seriously. “
Our ten million poor are probably the one group in Kenya that is not concerned with the making of a new constitution: they are too preoccupied with the struggle to stay alive one more day. The rest of us should be concerned, for their sake as well as for our own and our children and grandchildren's well being. We need not bury our heads in the sand in the face of the increasing misery in our country; there is much we can do to change the situation. Find out what this is by reading the following articles. You will be educated, like I was.
G. Wakuraya Wanjohi
NOTE TO OUR READERS:
What we feared has come to pass: the media bill was signed by the President in June. This law effectively does away with freedom of expression an makes a mockery of the right to information. Its effect is that we have to halt the publication of the journal, at least for the time being.
We do hope that the new government which will be sworn in after the elections (expected at the end of the year) will reverse this drastic action so that we will again be able to publish WAJIBU. But for now this is the last issue of the journal you will be receiving this year. However, we would appreciate if you could furnish us with your latest E-mail address so that we can remain in touch with you about further developments. If you have access to the Internet, also check our website from time to time. We have appreciated your support throughout the year and trust that this will not be the end of our joint endeavour to raise awareness about issues of social and religious concern.