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I am a believer in pursuing one's passion and enabling others to realize their potential. Working with women and girls is my passion.

Friday, August 27, 2010

Pomp and colour: Promulgation for Kenya constitution

When the news started indicating that it will be pomp and colour at the promulgation of our New constitution, I didn’t realise just how much! I was set to watch the proceedings live from my house and the coverage in all the local TV stations was not disappointing. The venue of the great event, Uhuru Park has great historical significance. Uhuru is a Kiswahili means ‘independence’ and it has significance to the Kenya’s independence since the first flag was hoisted at the Uhuru gardens not very far from this park and hence the name has great significance. The Uhuru Park evokes memories of liberation; it is the park that the first African woman, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai fought for a long while against the former president Moi’s regime who wanted to elect a skyscraper. It is at Uhuru Park, that the transition in 2002 was done when the current president took over power in what was seen as Kenya’s second liberation. It is in this park that today, 27th August 2010, by 0800hrs Kenyans were already full to capacity, waiting eagerly for the great day.

The visitors who graced the ceremony included several presidents from different countries, former presidents, ambassadors were among other guests. The mood in the crowd was ecstatic, patriotic songs were played by the military band and I could not help but shed tears of joy; the day is finally here.

The arrival of the first lady, Lucy Kibaki was followed by the arrival of the president shortly before 1000hrs and the ceremony got under way. The prayers were conducted to include some of the diverse beliefs in Kenya like Islam, Christianity and traditional religions. Shortly after 100hrs the process of promulgation started after s brief speech from the president. The crowd watched, cheered, clapped and simply celebrated as we watched the process begin. None of us watching had ever witnessed such a ceremony in Kenya. The OLD constitution was negotiated in Lancaster just before the Kenya’s independence in 1963 and has the seal and signature of the queen. This was therefore a momentous occasion to see the promulgation of the document we had given views on, discussed, bargained and voted for, what a day for Kenya! The four colours of the national flag; green, red, white and black were well represented in the dressing and flags that are witnessed at Uhuru Park.

The promulgation starts by having the Attorney General give copies of the constitution. The president gave a declaration of the New Constitution and then went ahead to sign the document. The seal was affixed on the new constitution and the president then held it up for the crowds to see. There were loud cheers as the fanfare is played with President Kibaki waving the Constitution. You should see the smile on the man’s face, and for the first time I saw a full smile on the president’s face!

AND NOW, KENYA IS UNDER A NEW CONSTITUTION!

The three verses of the national anthem were sung in Kiswahili. This is a really rare occasion since in national functions, the national anthem tune is normally played by the band and when sang in different occasions its normally the only the first verse; here we were the three verses. The words of the national anthem summarises the prayer for Kenya today.
“O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.

Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.

Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.”

The cheering in the crowd was at its loudest and the cannon blasted as the flag is hoisted simultaneously! The flag that was hoisted is 22 by 14 ft and has risen to a height of 30 metres where it will remain as a permanent feature.
IT’S A NEW KENYA

The chief justice was the first person to swear allegiance to the New Constitution. President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila and vice president Kalonzo also took afresh the oath of office and allegiance to the new law. The members of parliament would take the oaths later on in the day. Kenyans ratified the new constitution of Kenya and here we were rejoicing in the new possibilities it created. There was entertainment and displays by different groups of people. Display of armoured Personnel Carriers, battle tanks and Humvees roll by. There is little chance they will ever be used in actual war, but every nation appreciates the role the army plays. It is the first time the Kenyan public is seeing this war machinery. Amazing stuff!! Helicopters trailing banners bearing the words, ‘GOD BLESS KENYA’. Trailers bearing workers simulating the construction of houses are also part of the display here. They are constructing a new house symbolizing the making of the new Kenya; musicians, it was the time for the Kenyan dance.
The occasion was concluded by speeches from the president, vice president and prime minister.
The president reiterated some of the values in the New Constitution that identified need to accommodate diversity and respect universal principles of human rights, gender, equity and human rights

For the second time Kenyans sang all the three verses of the national anthem to conclude the occasion. Later the presidents, prime minister and the first lady led in a significance event of releasing doves which signify peace and balloons in the colours of the national flag as an indication of new dawn.

A new Kenya, and I plan to celebrate even more, no worries about implementations, costs etc today, it’s time to celebrate!

New Kenya, New Dawn.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Desiderata

The words of Desiderata always speak to me, all so powerful

Go placidly amid the noise and the haste,
and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender,
be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly, and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant;
they too have their story.
Avoid loud and aggressive persons;
they are vexatious to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others,
you may become vain or bitter,
for always there will be
greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.
Keep interested in your own career
however humble;
it is a real possession in the
changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs,
for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you
to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.
Be yourself.
Especially do not feign affection.
Neither be cynical about love,
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment,
it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years,
gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit
to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.
Beyond a wholesome discipline,
be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe
no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here.
And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.
Therefore, be at peace with God,
whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations,
in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace in your soul.
With all its sham,
drudgery, and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world.
Be cheerful.
Strive to be happy.

Saturday, August 07, 2010

The baby is born- Kenya’s New constitution

I realized one might not need to have held a new born baby to know the joy of a mother on safely delivering a baby. I felt that joy. It was 5th day of August 2010, I was sitting in the coach following news closely despite a doctor’s advice to take rest, but this was not the time to miss the happenings in Kenya. I was wishing I can scream and shout aloud, WE HAVE A NEW CONSTITTION, but flu had put me down and I could only shout in my heart. I could not believe that it was finally here, the joy can not be described in words. I had been so passionate about the proposed constitution, that for me this was just a climax and my ill health didn’t deter my joy.

The constitution making process in Kenya has a long history. The previous constitution of Kenya was made at Lancaster house upon the Kenyan independence in 1963, and now was another moment to get a new homemade constitution. The first referendum was marred by a lot of politicking with the proposed constitution getting edited a long way to the extent that Kenyans no longer recognized their efforts in bringing their views into the constitution, and hence in 2005 the proposed constitution was rejected.

The constitutional moment was reignited in 2008 following the post elections violence in Kenya, the worst violence to ever be experienced in Kenya that left many Kenyans killed, injured, displaced and the belief in the national processes seriously challenged. The national accord was signed that allowed for power sharing and creation of the prime minister and deputy prime ministers’ position. One of the most critical aspects of the national accord was the popular ‘Agenda 4’. The long standing issues identified under Agenda Item 4 included: a) Undertaking constitutional, legal and institutional reforms; b) Tackling poverty and inequality as well as combating regional development imbalances; c) Tackling unemployment especially among the youth; d) Consolidating national cohesion and unity; e) Undertaking land reforms; f) Addressing transparency, accountability and impunity.

A national cohesion commission, a commission of inquiry into the post elections violence and the Transitional justice and reconciliation commissions were among the institutions that were set up to handle different aspects. The Electoral Commission of Kenya that was blamed for the flawed elections was disbanded and the Interim and Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) was set up.

Quite critical was the constitutional making process, and the process required that : Parliament to enact a Review Statute including a timetable; Parliament to enact a referendum law; The preparation of a Draft Constitution in a consultative process with expert assistance; Parliament to approve the Draft Constitution; and, The people to enact a new Constitution through a referendum. The law was passed during the crisis period and it was made water tight enough not to be interfered with at different levels as has been the case in many instances. The Committee of Experts (CoE) was set up and the process started and the progress was more of a parachute that has been released and it had to land, could not be stopped halfway. Since November 2009, different drafts were given with consultations and give and take and in May we finally had the Proposed Constitution of Kenya (PCK) that was to be subjected to the referendum, the final and climax process.

I have many aha moments in the journey that Kenya undertook and will highlight them as I go on. The first in this is the resilience in which Kenyans bounce back, it’s amazing! Following the post elections violence, many people burnt their voters’ cards; many swore to never go for elections. When the IIEC called for the fresh registration of voter’s country wide, they optimistically but cautiously put a target of ten million, but this was surpassed! Twelve million Kenyans registered and 72% voter turn out was registered, that is resilience at its best.

The journey was joyous, challenging, tough and exciting. I saw Kenyan citizens taking up the mantle and giving their time, resources and in terms of time, money and knowledge to enable other citizens understand the provisions in the then PCK. While they were two sides to this debate, those supporting (with the color Green) and those opposing the PCK (with the color Red) several issues came up. One unique entry into the debate was the Clergy where most of the Christian leaders openly opposed the PCK with the main bone of contention being the ‘abortion clause’. The ‘contentious’ clause (Article 26.4) reads ‘Abortion is not permitted unless in the opinion of a trained health professional there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger; or if permitted by any other written law’ . Many discussions went on around this and the sorry fact is that the discussion was more of religious (men mostly) discussing the reproductive health of women and with some even out rightly showing disregard for the health of women. In many instances discussion was skewed to portray women as immoral human beings waiting to getting abortion at the earliest opportunity. The fact that there are millions of abortion related maternal deaths, or that abortion has not been expressly legalized in the provisions didn’t feature. My disappointment is the observation that the same clergy who are eager to protect life never speak out when laws to protect lives of women like the sexual offences act are being discussed. In one of the mainstream Churches, a clergy in the last few months was dismissed from his services in the Church when he openly expressed desire to take up parental responsibility of a child he had sired. For me this was just patriarchy flexing its muscles.

As a result of the increased involvement of the clergy in the constitutional debate many of us stopped attending church services! The Church was clearly losing its influence and the clergy need to do much more to win back the confidence of the followers.

Some of the hilarious happenings were the appearance of ‘Paul the Octopus’ joke! And the portrayal of ‘Green win’ was one hilarious graphics.

As I engaged in different ways, I could feel excitement building and I felt the stakes were so high we could not afford to lose the proposed constitution. I saw this as the greatest opportunity for rebuilding Kenya and giving women what they have asked for long time. I failed to imagine the possibility of losing the vote in the referendum.

Some of the great highlights included the civic education trainings, the rallies and conferences and the one-one engagements with different individuals on the same. One of common feedback in the forums I attended or facilitated, which were mostly forums for women, was the power of knowledge. At one time one woman commented that she was feeling like the spirit had descended on her; that was how she could describe deep feeling she got from realizing what the constitution had in store for her. The low moments was when I felt slighted by persons who found it upon themselves to make assumptions, and one person told me that I must have been given money to promote the constitution! This could not deter my efforts; neither did the different sentiments deter the efforts of other young women who I interacted closely with. We formed a support mechanism coming to each other’s assistance where need be and being there for each other. Sisterhood at it’s best.

As the day drew nearer, I kept making sure that my voter’s card and ID are intact for the great day. I counted the day to the hour. Two days before the referendum, I started developing some sore throat which escalated to flu to the chest, but somehow it had not struck me to see a doctor until a friend asked if I had seen a doctor! On August 4, I had planned to be at polling station in my Gatundu North constituency at 0600hours but by then getting out of bed was a struggle. I managed to get to the polling station at 1000hrs and cast the vote! I had to recheck to make sure I had put the mark in the right place! Finally the day was here!

As I went to hospital and later stayed in bed for two days following the proceedings as much as I could manage, I could not help but feel proud of being Kenyan. The world was watching with some predicting violence. There was peaceful voting! I was so impressed by the IIEC who conducted the elections n the best way we have had in history; it was a big win for Kenya. Kenyans became more informed than ever before and engaged on civic issues more than ever before. The media in Kenya played a great role in making sure that the citizens got a chance to know what was in the proposed constitution. Individuals organized to have forums in their localities. Women’s organizations held forums to educate women on the benefits that the PCK had for women. It was Kenyans for Kenya.

The first leg of journey is over, the baby is here, and regardless of the journey ahead in implementing, we can pose for a moment and celebrate!

Oh Kenya we have a NEW CONSITUTION! No longer ‘proposed’ but NEW.

God bless Kenya!