Macharia Gaitho: Better constitution holds key to prosperous Kenya

A NEW GALLUP SURVEY REveals that Kenyans are more concerned about unemployment, poverty and high prices, than they are about a new constitution.

That is worrying. That we are more concerned about simple bread-and-butter issues — about our creature comforts and well-being — than about the constitution, shows we conform to the hackneyed argument of years past that matters of the stomach are more important than freedom and democracy.

During the struggle for multi-partyism in the early 1990s, President Moi and his academics-on-hire went into overdrive trying to sell the argument that the crusade for democratisation and human rights was alien and foreign-inspired; and failed to take cognisance of the fact that Kenyans had much more important issues to occupy them.

Politics of the stomach, President Moi used to say as he presided over a kleptocracy that looted the national coffers, drive in a wild binge aimed at buying hearts and minds.

Well, a few in the inner sanctum grew very rich, but the vast majority of Kenyan became much, much poorer until they eventually realised how important it was to boot out the Kanu regime before it starved them all to death.

So, in a way, Mr Moi was right. He bankrupted the country and the people he was trying to buy with politics of the stomach came to realise that their long-term interests lay in democratisation rather than temporary satiation.

In time, the process was completed when the Moi regime was shown a wide open exit door to mark what came to be recognised as a pivotal stage in the Second Liberation.

It was not long, however, before the new President Kibaki reneged on the promise to deliver a new constitution, one of the cardinal pledges of election campaign, and the coalition that had ended four decades of a Kanu monopoly on power started crumbling.

President Kibaki’s biggest letdown to Kenyans has always been the aborted new constitution; and after the near meltdown following the disputed 2007 presidential election, it was widely recognised that the path to peace, national reconciliation and healing would have to be paved with a new economic and social order.

Hence the surprise that just over half a year since the country was pulled from the brink, Kenyans no longer recognise the paramountcy of a new constitution.

I don’t know whether that is a sign of contentment, indifference, or desperation, but it is still worrying.

If it is contentment with the relative peace and calm following installation of the Grand Coalition government, then Kenyans are in a state of dangerous delusion.

Peace is not just the absence of war. The fact that Kenyans are not killing each other at the moment does not mean a state of peace, it only means a ceasefire. Until the things that divide Kenyans are resolved and he solutions entrenched in a new constitutional order, we cannot talk about having attained peace. We are still in a state where a tiny spark can lead to fresh bloodletting.

Indifference is just as dangerous. It means Kenyans simply do not know or do not care that they are sitting on a ticking time bomb that could explode at any minute.

Then there is desperation. It is true that a people struggling just to keep body and soul together, as in the Moi years, might have little time and energy to expend on abstract things like a new constitution. They have enough problems about where the next meal will come from.

Perhaps Mr Moi’s ideology of the stomach held that hungry people do not have the luxury of time and energy to agitate for improvements in their lives.

True, to an extent, because the more chilling reality is that a hungry and desperate people do not have the luxury to look forward to a future of hope and promise.

They are more likely to turn to crime and other acts of desperation merely to survive. Runaway crime and the proliferation of dangerous gangs in the urban areas and all sorts of bandits in the remoter areas are a direct manifestation of that state of desperation and hopelessness.

A PEOPLE DRIVEN TO CRIME BY sheer necessity are unlikely to be too concerned about the constitution, law and order. If anything the weaker the machinery of State, the more advantage to those living on the margins of civilised society.

That is why we should be extremely worried that Kenyans are not placing the constitution firmly atop their “to do” lists.

It is time the Government moved to re-assure a cynical public that it is indeed moving towards giving them justice and opportunity for all through a new economic and social order that will be entrenched in a new constitution.

It was in June that the laws providing the timetable for a new constitution were published.

Since then, apart from interventions by some groupings looking for roles to play, we have heard very little about actual progress on that timetable.

Our leaders have been quite content with the trappings of high office and thus are paying little to address the issues that must be resolved if Kenya is to firmly get back on track towards peace and prosperity.

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