Monday, April 12, 2010

Those loudly opposed to draft law stand on quick sand

Sunday Nation 11 April 2010

After Parliament’s passage of the proposed new constitution of Kenya, a chorus of responses started emerging from all corners of the country.

Politicians continued giving divergent views mostly propelled by nothing more than egotistical posturing and power play, while some religious leaders continued their strident calls for rejection of the document on the basis of provisions on abortion and Kadhis’ courts.

Other busybodies are now working hard to introduce more non-issues such as the possibility of the military and police officers picketing, demonstrating and otherwise expressing their displeasure with their employer through industrial action.

This despite a clear ring-fencing clause in the draft that provides for Parliament to make legislation restricting the rights of the “Kenya Defence Forces” and police officers to engage in just such activity.

Another issue that is emerging as potentially problematic is the assertion by some politicians that the draft “restricts the amount of land a person is allowed to own in this country”.

Among the promoters of this argument are people currently facing multiple court cases relating to illegal acquisition of government land, and it is therefore difficult to separate their arguments from their personal tribulations.

The truth of the matter is that the draft provides, once again, for Parliament to legislate on an acceptable minimum and maximum size of private land an individual may own.

The document does not attempt to set these limits, and instead leaves this task to a Parliament elected by Kenyans, including the politicians now pontificating over the issue.

The question they need to answer is why they have such little faith in the legislative organs of this country when they have been prominent members of the same!

Among those raising a storm over the document is former President Daniel arap Moi. According to press reports, his opposition to this document has to do with the fact that it is “academic” and does not “capture the mood and aspirations of the majority of Kenyan people”.

His definition of “academic” is that there are emotive land and ethnic factors that need to be “handled with utmost care”.

The former president was further quoted in the press as saying that “it appears as if the country is being treated like a testing ground for foreign ideas, some of which are weird”.

Notwithstanding the rather unedifying definition of “academic” attributed to Mr Moi, and his cryptic reference to “foreign ideas”, it is safe to conclude that the former president is fighting hard to ensure that his once-upon-a-time prophecy that Kenyans would never see a new constitution is fulfilled.

In the end, most of those raising these petty issues as grounds for rejecting the draft are only exposing the fact that they had already decided in advance to reject the document, and are currently only fishing for “plausible” excuses to publicly proclaim their opinions.

Serious issues

In the absence of any serious issues apart from the weak ones identified above, it must be assumed therefore that the Committee of Experts and the Parliamentary Select Committee managed to achieve the singularly elephantine feat of producing an acceptably good constitution.

In an environment as poisoned as Kenya’s political landscape, it was always going to be an uphill task coming up with a document that pleases the majority, or at least does not offend them in any way.

The greatest fear of reformists all over the country was that the document would be mercilessly torn apart by accomplished academics raising undeniably valid points.

If the above-quoted reservations are the best the naysayers can come up with, then the message to the Kenyan voter is loud and clear – that there is nothing wrong with this draft, and all of us must seriously consider passing it at a referendum and be done with it.

As was the case in Parliament, the burden of proving the unsoundness of the document should lie squarely on the shoulders of those that claim that it is flawed. They must be compelled to come up with better reasons than those they are currently advancing in their quest to have the draft rejected.

In the highly likely event that nobody comes up with a reason better than the hackneyed repetition of ignorant and prejudice-laden rhetoric, it is incumbent upon the good citizens of this country to vote for this new effort at re-engineering the architecture of our state.

At the very least, Kenyans must be allowed to vote with their own minds without being polluted by the bilge emanating from unrepentant bigots.

Indeed, the former president should be among the very last Kenyans to speak out against any reforms, having been at the helm for over two decades with little to show for it but repression and retrogression.

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

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