Sunday, February 28, 2010

Two years of ceasefire but little progress on key issues

Sunday Nation 28 February 2010

On February 28, 2008, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan emerged from a meeting with President Mwai Kibaki and his then bitter political rival Raila Odinga and uttered the immortal words “We have a deal”.

His declaration marked the beginning of a ceasefire designed to provide space for fundamental reforms in the architecture of the state, resulting in institutions that will stand the test of time and prevent a similar electoral dispute from ever happening again.

In the “Agreement on the Principles of Partnership of the Coalition Government” signed on this date two years ago, the President and the Prime Minister acknowledged the temporary nature of the coalition arrangement, stating that the agreement provided “the means to implement a coherent and far-reaching reform agenda, to address the fundamental root causes of recurrent conflict and to create a better, more secure, more prosperous Kenya for all”.

In a subsequent agreement signed on May 23, 2008 by negotiating teams from PNU and ODM, the Agenda 4 items were enumerated and an implementation matrix developed to monitor progress in addressing them.

The items listed under this agenda were: constitutional, institutional and legal reforms; land reform; poverty, inequity and regional imbalances; unemployment, particularly among the youth; consolidation of national cohesion and unity; and transparency, accountability and impunity.

Institutions fingered at the time as being so broken down as to pose a significant threat to the survival of the state included the judiciary, the security forces, the political executive, parliament and the civil service.

Along with early actions in resettling the internally displaced persons and restructuring the electoral system, reforms in these key institutions were meant to create an environment in which true democracy would flourish and all Kenyans would finally be proud to be identified as such.

Two years down the line, it is difficult to identify concrete movement in any of the items identified above as being crucial to national survival.

Slowly but surely, our political class is reorganising itself for a renewed political contest without paying heed to efforts needed to reform the imperfections in state architecture that resulted in the 2007 election debacle.

Just a few days ago, a disagreement over the interpretation of the National Accord regarding firing and discipline of ministers threatened to torpedo the coalition arrangement and introduce unnecessary anxiety into the conduct of affairs of state.

Indeed, this came to pass on Wednesday when parliamentary business was seriously constrained due to power plays between key members of the ODM party.

The only item on the agenda that seems to have any sort of momentum is the constitutional review process, even though it is over one year beyond its initial target.

The Committee of Experts on Wednesday released their “final draft” of the proposed constitution for parliamentary consideration and possible approval for presentation at a referendum.

However, if the document available on the committee’s website is any guide, there seem to be serious communication problems within the Committee of Experts itself. The draft on the website still has proofing comments from the drafters, and there appear to be a number of unresolved issues clearly marked in its margins.

Aside from editorial issues, the draft still contains certain potential weaknesses including the retention of a weak senate, language purporting to authoritatively state the origin of life and a large size caused partly by the continual harping on “principles” and constitutional theory.

Removal of non-contentious but important institutions such as the Health Services Commission raises questions about what we consider to be our national priorities.

Despite the need for serious interrogation of this document, Parliament is so divided that any positive outcome will be a pleasant surprise. It is entirely conceivable that the Grand Coalition leaders and their wrangling minions will eventually determine the fate of this new draft, long before it appears at a referendum.

As far as the other items on Agenda 4 are concerned, Kenyans might as well forget about any progress until another government comes into power after the next General Election.

The only fear is that as political temperatures rise, the need for these reforms will slowly recede until we arrive at the next election exactly as we did at the last – divided, angry and ready to fight and kill for a few politicians.

As we mark the day on which our own Armageddon was postponed, the greatest lesson we must meditate upon is that we too often allow politicians to play an inordinately large role in our lives, and it may be time to remedy this anomaly once and for all.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine.

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