Glenys Kinnock: Constitution is still acid test for Kenya - The Star

When I came back to Kenya last week, I was again reminded of the enormous strengths of this country and its people. I knew that Kenyans hoped for and deserved a bright future.

But by the time that I flew home I was left in no doubt just how important the constitutional review was to that future. Why? Because people told me how a new constitution could change their lives.

Every Kenyan I met — from the women in Nairobi Women's Hospital who were subject to appalling gender-based violence after the election to the youths caught up in that violence and now working towards community reconciliation in Mathare — told me how a new constitution would help deliver the stability that they so desperately desire.

They spoke with understanding and passion about the need to bring resources closer to all people in Kenya, to spread the concentration of political power so that everyone will benefit regardless of who wins an election and to provide vital checks and balances that will improve governance and accountability in the country.

Alongside electoral, police and judicial reform, a new constitution would be a fundamental cornerstone for their security. It would help return Kenyans to the long-term path of development and prosperity.

Nobody wants to see a return to the violence of 2007/8 when more than 1,000 people were killed and 600,000 people were displaced.

I heard during my visit that the process towards a referendum on the constitution is on track.

Clearly there remain divisions over particular issues which must be resolved. But I was encouraged by the sentiment from politicians and citizens alike of the need to achieve a consensus on a draft that would enable Kenya to put in place a constitutional framework to address the underlying causes of its recent instability.

The Committee of Experts' revised draft, including the provisions for a ground-breaking bill of rights, does seek to address these causes. They have clearly had a tough job in harmonising previous drafts and taking into account many different views. While they cannot of course reflect everyone's views, they have gone about their job responsibly, sensitively and of course added real expertise.

The revised draft is now in the hands of the Parliamentary Select Committee to reach agreement before going back to the experts and then to the people. I trust that the political representatives will be able to harness the desire for a new constitution and reach consensus.

Whatever the final system — presidential, parliamentary or a mixture (and all can work) — the key is that it should be designed in the long term interests of the country and its people, not the short term interests of political leaders. Because ultimately this will not be a document that belongs to politicians: it will belong to the people.

Abraham L incoln said it best when he spoke of government of the people, for the people, by the people. Which is why I was heartened to see that there was so much interest and debate on the constitution by Kenyans.

Kofi Annan identified during his visit in December a twelve month window of opportunity for Kenya to implement reforms agreed in the National Accord. As I said repeatedly to leaders and members of the public here last week, I do fear for Kenya if key reforms are not put in place and impunity is left unchecked.

This is why I trust that the public commitments made by the President and Prime Minister can help build consensus and support around the final draft that emerges. Because they know, that this is a truly historic moment in Kenya's history.

There is a clear responsibility on Kenya's political elite. But it they are able to bring about a new constitution that checks executive power, allows democratic space to grow and lessens the risks of a return to violence, then Kenya will once again be setting an example for the region and the rest of the world.

But it is also a moment for the people of Kenya to decide what it is that they want in their constitution. Every Kenyan deserves a constitution that transcends past rivalries and narrow differences. The past cannot be changed, but if the people of Kenya and their politicians come together and agree a new constitution soon then they have a chance to transform their future for the better.

Baroness Glenys Kinnock is the UK Minister for Africa.

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