Christian Aid has welcomed Kenya’s new constitution which passed into law 27 August, but warns the country’s democratic institutions must be bolstered to prevent members of the political elite using the reforms to further their own interests.
It says the greatest challenge now is to ensure the provisions of the constitution are rapidly translated into eagerly-awaited benefits for ordinary citizens.
The new law, which replaces the country's 1963 independence constitution, maintains a presidential system, but one with checks and balances. These include devolved government, the enshrining of the National Human Rights Commission and the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission in law, and an end to MPs’ tax free status.
The allocation of 15 per cent of the national budget to 47 counties around the country is one area where new abuses may flourish, Christian Aid warns.
Dereje Alemayehu, Christian Aid’s East Africa County Manager, said: ‘The constitution enshrines principles and creates institutions that could enhance accountability and bring an end to the pervasive impunity that characterised Kenya’s past political evolution. It is critical that the reforms are not captured by the chameleon political elite.
‘The new constitution is a significant political breakthrough, with the lack of safeguards it contains being the most important issue behind the ethnic tensions which led to recent conflict.
‘Now civil society must be empowered to take full advantage of the democratisation it promises, enabling citizens to hold those in power to account, while ensuring that policies reflect their needs and interests, and safeguard their rights.
‘The battle against corruption, for instance, will also need to be taken to grassroots level in the new counties. In the past, powerful Provincial Governors and MPs were notorious for their neglect of duty and the impunity they enjoyed.
‘Transparency and accountability now will greatly depend on the structures to be put in place and the involvement of citizens in holding the county governments to account. We need to empower citizens to make MPs answerable to their constituencies. The new constitution has provisions for constituents to recall their MPs if they don’t perform. Where necessary, this must be acted upon.’
Mr Alemayehu added that Christian Aid’s work in Kenya will focus on advocating the implementation of the Bill of Rights contained in Chapter 5 of the constitution.
In addition to civil and political rights, such as freedom of speech and association, socio-economic rights, including the right to health care, housing, sanitation, food, safe water, social security and education, are also enshrined, as well as the government’s responsibilities and roles in providing basic services.
In addition, efforts through partner organisations will be concentrated on ensuring and monitoring implementation of the constitution’s new policies on tax, climate change, gender issues, the marginalisation of northern Kenya, land policy, health and ethnicity.
He added that it was critical that a process of reconciliation now took place to bring on board those who against the Constitution, including a number of church leaders, as well as the ‘water melons’ – those who positioned themselves between the ‘green’ (Yes) and ‘red’ (No) camps without allowing them to water down the huge democratic achievements of this constitution.