Editorial: New Dawn from President Sworn in at Dusk
Monday, 16 August 2010
If you had to pay for something that’s good for many people, but with money you knew was stolen, would that good thing you paid for still be as good? If you had to steal that money yourself to pay for the good thing, would this be right? Would the good thing that you had offered to everyone as good, as clean, as leading to better things, not be inherently tainted?  

I was pleased that the referendum results came out so clearly: no point dragging feet over whether to concede or not because really – what was not clear about that result? Great also that it tallied with the opinion polls that some particularly insightful members of the clergy had previously blamed for ‘causing post-election violence’. It’s a relief that this protracted process of constitution-making has finally come to a happy conclusion. It’s good news that this process happened without any violence, and that it was managed diligently by the IIEC. I was happy that so many people were excited about this step forward, and I hope this momentum will carry over into business and investor confidence.  

Then, hyperbole kicked in, with much dawning, peaceloving, redemption, and ushering – which a friend snarkily described as a ‘national orgy of self-congratulation’.

So dawn, and a new one at that: I’m not so sure. I’m a sucker for sentiment, and I don’t want to knock this grand occasion. But I’m also an analyst and have found abject cynicism a reliably productive approach. And on this great new dawn, I remember a president sworn in hastily at dusk.  

Now I can see how mzee Kibaki has drawn up a straightforward calculation: Swapping tainted election (one) for new constitution (also one). Crank up the patriotic sentiment, and look: instant makeover for legacy! Not within the symbolic 100 days as he initially promised, but then, Mr. Moi, who’d take such symbolism, or indeed a politician’s promise, seriously? Also, glasshouse and stones and a quarter of a century without a new constitution, remember?  

A little irksome: All the snide remarks that the International Media being had seemingly been ‘unwilling to accept’ that Kenyan could vote peacefully. Well. Less than two years have passed since a botched election in which massacring your neighbours with pangas became an ‘expression of legitimate political protest (yes, ODM leaders, current and fallen out of grace, I’m looking at you). And what has changed since? Not, in fact, the overall state of all-embracing peacelovingness, I suspect: Before the referendum, some people were still warming ominously that under the new constitution they would be forced to chase ‘certain communities’ back to their own ancestral lands, and heckling and stonethrowing at rallies were frequent.  

Mostly, it’s political will that changed, and the fact that the Two Principals stood on the same side of the divide for a change: A large enough, influential enough section in government wanted it to happen. And, in sharp contrast to 2007, decided to follow on intelligence reports with the deployment of security forces. And decided to let the IIEC do its work, rather than put the proverbial gun to the electoral commission’s head to announce a more convenient results after clearing out the KICC.  

But this new-dawning constitution was also midwifed through some of the worst practices of the past: outrageous lies about what the text actually said, financial inducements, selfish political calculations, threats and stones thrown, roadside declarations and plain unlawful creation of new districts as the Boundaries Review Commission pointed out to a president keen to birth that new law. By breaking laws?

So for all the potential and the hope encapsulated in this document: The constitution won’t do a thing before a lot of legislation is written, and institutional changes are made. Even the ‘dogs-will-have-to-be-bought-napkins’ wildest fringe of No supporters have spent a mere second nibbling humble pie and then launched themselves back into the process to be part of whatever new committees need to be set up to manage this process. Do you trust them?  

And the constitution also won’t do a thing either unless people, big and small, decide that a law is worth upholding. Spend half an hour in Nairobi traffic and you know what your fellow citizens think of rules, regulations, or possibly just basic civility.
Andrea Bohnstedt

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