Joyce Mulama writes about how the ruling party "hijacks" the People's Constitution


NAIROBI, Feb 5 (IPS) - Kenya's civil society groups are protesting
over a law that gives parliament sweeping powers to alter the
country's draft constitution, without involving the people.

The parliament has been urged to repeal the law. Civil society groups
argue that the new law interferes with the concept of a people-driven

The problem heightened after President Mwai Kibaki in December
silently assented to a controversial Bill that allows a simple
majority of parliament to amend the draft constitution. The public
only learned of the assent in the local newspapers Jan 25.

The contested bill provides for the draft constitution to be adopted
or rejected in totality by parliament, which has no power to make any
alterations to the document whatsoever.

Kibaki's assent derives its legality from the Constitution of Kenya
Review (Amendment) Bill which was passed by parliament last year. The
Liberal Democratic Party (LDP), a junior partner in the ruling
coalition National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) and the main opposition
party, the Kenya African National Union (KANU) boycotted the vote,
leaving only Kibaki's National Alliance Party of Kenya (NAK) to pass
the bill.

Contentious issues in the draft constitution, including reduction of
presidential powers and creation of an executive prime minister's
post, have been the reason for the split and political infighting
within the ruling coalition.

Spearheaded by the minister of roads Raila Odinga, LDP supports
downsizing of presidential powers, with Odinga being seen as a likely
candidate for the premier's post.

But justice and constitutional affairs minister Kiraitu Murungi and
his national security counterpart, Chris Murungaru, who are close to
Kibaki, have fiercely opposed reducing the president's powers.

Using every trick in the book to have the draft constitution discussed
in parliament, the NAK has also managed to maneuver the president to
assent to the Constitution of Kenya Review (Amendment) Bill.

Kenya's long-awaited draft constitution was released in September 2002
by the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission. The negotiations began
in 2003 at a National Constitutional Conference (NCC) in the outskirts
of the capital Nairobi, with over 600 delegates participating.
Appointed in 2000, the commission had travelled across the country
collecting views from the public on what they wanted included in the
draft, which if passed, will constitute the country's new constitution.

Findings of the commission showed that Kenyans wished a system whereby
powers would be shared between the president and a prime minister to
minimise abuse of power. Under the current constitution, drawn before
independence from Britain in 1963, the president enjoys unlimited

The quarrel over the constitution in the ruling coalition has led to a
delay in giving Kenyans a new constitution. President Kibaki, who came
to power in December 2002 on a platform of a new constitution, pledged
a new document within the first 100 days in office, a promise that he
never kept.

Fed up of delaying tactics, civil society groups, involved in
constitutional reforms, have formed a pressure group, called `Yellow
Movement', to mobilise support against the bill.

`'We are saying that if parliament is left to alter the draft
constitution, then it will not represent the view of Kenyans. A
constitution is for the people and therefore should be made by the
people, and not parliament,'' Jedida Wakonyo, a co-convener of the
`Yellow Movement' told IPS this week.

Comprising 16 pro-reform groups, the `Yellow Movement' holds a silent
protest every Wednesday to the gates of parliament, adorning yellow
ribbons symbolising change, and carrying placards with constitution
messages. They intend to carry on with the protest until parliament
reopens in March 2005.

`'Our message is that things are bad and we want change now. Change by
the people, not by a selected few from parliament,'' said Wakonyo, who
is also executive director of the Nairobi-based Legal Resource

According to the movement, if parliament does not repeal the law
giving it powers to amend the draft constitution, the movement will
launch a parallel constitution review process, and take it to the

Women organisations, too, are enraged by delay of ratifying the draft
constitution, which they say contains numerous positive packages for

`'The proposed new constitution has a lot of gains for women. It
addresses things like Affirmative Action, which is what women have
been fighting for. Women want a third representation in all elective
posts of decision-making,'' Caro Nyambura, programme officer of the
Nairobi-based Coalition on Violence Against Women, told IPS in an
interview. (END/2005)