Long fight for change and link to crisis
Published on February 18, 2008, 12:00 am
By Standard Team
The ghost of constitutional reforms — which two successive regimes failed to deal with — has re-emerged to haunt the political leadership in the middle of a post-election crisis, The Standard can report.
And this on the eve of the high profile arrival today of US Secretary of State Ms Condeleezza Rice and the return of Dr Jendayi Frazer, Assistant Secretary of State for African Affairs, to add impetus to the ongoing mediation talks.
Rice, an emissary of US President George Bush, will carry this message from him to President Kibaki and Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Mr Raila Odinga, “…The US desires to see that there be a power-sharing arrangement that will help this nation resolve its difficulties”.
Power-sharing, now at the centre of the ongoing talks to broker a deal out of the crippling political impasse — and which could entail shifting some of the imperial powers of the presidency to another institution — is, in fact, a child of the much sought-after reforms.
Tragically, few lessons have been learnt after many years of false starts dating back to 1997, and billions of shillings gone down the drain, including a referendum on the draft Constitution which the Government lost.
But after failing to reform its constitution in peacetime, Kenya is now confronted with a fresh and even more urgent need to reform its constitution in the middle of a crisis.
Prof Yash Pal Ghai, a consultant during the search for a new constitution in the Kibaki-led National Rainbow Coalition (Narc) government, once remarked at the height of his frustration that if Kenya failed to reform its supreme document in peacetime, it somehow would still have to do so in turmoil.
The need for reforms is also in cognizance of the fact that while the mayhem that engulfed the country was a spontaneous response to the Electoral Commission of Kenya’s (ECK) declaration of Kibaki as winner of the 2007 presidential elections, a plethora of other underlying issues that have remained unresolved since Independence helped fuel it.
Mediators have conceded that the crisis cannot be resolved by merely dealing with the puzzle of who won the presidency and sharing out Cabinet positions.
With the international community backing the idea of power sharing, that has also strongly featured on the mediation table, there was no doubt at the weekend that a deal was shaping up along these lines.
New hardliners emerge
A political settlement that could usher in a new government is expected to be announced anytime this week. The talks, led by former UN secretary-general Dr Kofi Annan, former South African First Lady Mrs Graca Machel and former Tanzanian President Benjamin Mkapa, resume tomorrow.
But a new breed of status quo proponents similar to those who blocked change in Kanu’s last days of a 24-year hegemony and another that frustrated reforms for the most part during Kibaki’s first tenure as President emerged in the form of Party of National Unity (PNU) hardliners.
Power-sharing, which the international community has openly backed and is pressuring the protagonists to accept as the most viable political settlement, appeared to be deeply unsettling for PNU.
In a seemingly well choreographed fight-back, Foreign Affairs minister Mr Moses Wetangula fired the first salvo at US President George Bush — who has backed power-sharing and which idea he branded as a constitutional landmine.
“It is not possible to reach an agreement in affront to the Constitution. We have a country, laws and a Constitution. Whatever we reach as an agreement must be within the law,” Wetangula told journalists.
“Kenya will not take the road of agreements through hurried processes influenced by foreign states. We want a fully thought-out process because this is a Kenyan problem.”
In a direct response to Bush’s call for power-sharing, Wetangula lashed out: “We will not be led, guided or given conditions by foreign states on how to reach a solution to solve the political impasse in Kenya.”
And taking the cue was a group of 10 MPs from PNU and allied parties, who gathered at Hotel Boulevard and dismissed proposals on power sharing.
The MPs also told off President Bush and several envoys, including British High Commissioner Mr Adam Wood, over what they termed as, “infringing on Kenya’s sovereignty”.
“It is unacceptable that close to 45 years after independence, we shall allow foreign domination to steal the dream we had at Independence,” said part of the statement read at the press conference attended by Mr Peter Munya (Tigania East), Mrs Beth Mugo (Dagoretti), Mr Peter Mwathi (Limuru), Ms Wavinya Ndeti (Kathiani) and Mr Dick Wathika (Makadara), among others.
ODM has proposed a power sharing arrangement that will make the President head of State and Commander-in-Chief of the Armed Forces, but cede his role as head of government to an executive prime minister, who has two deputies.
In the proposal, the President and premier are to share executive authority with proportionality at all levels of government.
PNU, however, wants the President to remain head of State and government in the event of a grand coalition, with the President appointing members of the Cabinet as he/she wishes.
The party also insists that positions already filled in the Cabinet must not be tampered with, reflecting a hardline position.
Today will represent another busy day on the talks trail, with Rice scheduled to land at 10.30am and thereafter meet with Annan at the Serena Hotel.
She will later meet President Kibaki, ODM leader Raila, and members of the civil society and business community.
Rice is expected to later brief the media before winding up her tour of Kenya.