Sunday, September 5, 2010

Missed opportunities at promulgation

Sunday Nation 05 September 2010

On May 8, 1996, the then South African Deputy President, Mr Thabo Mbeki, made a speech on an occasion no different from our own promulgation ceremony held on Friday, August 27, 2010.

The speech, remembered today for its inspiring refrain, “I am an African”, is thought by many to be one of the greatest speeches ever made by an African leader on African soil.

Although the ceremony was meant to mark the adoption of the South African Constitution, Mr Mbeki correctly understood that his audience was not just restricted to South Africa, not even to the African continent, but covered the whole world.

The speech traced the origin and place of the African in the world, with soaring rhetoric taking in the influences of nature and the admixture of peoples that make up the African.

On the occasion of the promulgation of our Constitution, one would have expected at least one of the speechmakers of the day to rise to the occasion and make a speech that would continue to inspire generations to come, long after he is gone.

Of course, this was too much to expect from our rusty political leadership.
Instead of inspiration, we ended up showcasing only our typical bungling ineptitude.

Firstly, the government contrived to demonstrate to the whole world our chief character flaws as Kenyans – impatience and lack of attention to detail. After the Constitution was signed and sealed appropriately, the dignitaries lined up to release doves and balloons to mark the historic symbolism of the moment.

Although Kenyans had been made to understand that everything was carefully choreographed, the brightly coloured balloons simply refused to fly. Clearly, whoever organised the event had never heard of Helium, an inert gas lighter than air that would ensure the balloons remained afloat!

Only time will tell if this bungling is indicative of the future of the implementation process for the new Constitution.
The appearance of Sudanese President Omar al-Bashir only served to compound matters for us.

On a day when impunity was finally expected to be buried and forgotten, the state signalled that nothing had changed in the attitudes of our leadership, and that the ICC could be ignored without consequence.

It is now clear that whoever shall be indicted by the same court over our own 2008 pogrom will find a very safe haven within our hallowed borders, and even in the corridors of power.

The subsequent protestations by the Foreign Affairs ministry about inviting all our neighbours is absolute hogwash, as is the assertion that Kenya must remain neutral in the Sudan situation.

By law, we are bound to side with the ICC and hand over any indicted individual found within our borders, unless we decide to repudiate the treaty.
Finally, of course all the speeches were dour and platitudinous, with none having the ringing rhetoric characteristic of leaders who actually care about what they will be remembered for.

Just like the abortive attempt by our entertainment “celebs” to showcase their talent on the big stage, our leaders miserably failed to rise to the occasion.

We shall obviously remember the promulgation ceremony mostly for all the missed opportunities and unnecessary missteps of our political class, and not for the enormous promise the occasion portended for the entire nation.

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

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