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The Stalled Constitutional Review Process: The Way Forward

The Stalled Constitutional Review Process: The Way Forward
Pastoral Letter of the Kenya Catholic Bishops
September 1999

For a long time, the Kenyan Bishops together with other Churches and NGOs have been the driving motor behind the demands for an overdue review of the Constitution. At first the government had agreed that the process would involve all levels of Kenyan society, only to retract its promise and throw the process back to the government dominating parliament, thus thwarting any hope of meaningful constitutional change.

On June 8th the Kenya Episcopal Conference issued a press release on the Stalled Constitution review process that was ignored by the government. (ADS No: 502) As a result fifteen Kenya Bishops decided to meet the President on the 21st September at the State House, Nairobi on the issue of the constitutional review act. When the President did not respond to their demand of a people-driven constitutional process, they launched a nation-wide awareness-raising program and issued this Pastoral letter.

The Bishops of Kenya are acting true to the words of the Africa Synod Document which stated that “an authentic democracy, which respects pluralism, is one of the principle routes along which the Church travels together with the people” (EIA 112).

For the Truth Shall Set You Free. [1]

  1. We, the Catholic Bishops of Kenya, have seen, heard and felt the hopelessness, discouragement, confusion, and the feelings of deception experienced by our people when they consider the way our politicians are handling the Constitutional Review Process. The people of Kenya cannot help but feel cheated. We are therefore compelled to state our position in a spirit of solidarity and support to the aspirations of Kenyans who had trusted and who looked forward to the Review Process as their own and the most effective means to end the Economic and Political woes in this country.

  2. On matters of the Constitution, we have consulted the Head of State several times. Unfortunately most of our appeals have not borne fruit. We wish to remind all concerned of certain pertinent historical facts; Prior to the 1997 General Elections, President Moi assured us in writing that, “...the Constitutional Review exercise will be embarked on immediately after the General Elections …” Later he reaffirmed that, … the process must be open and the people must fully and effectively participate in it. [2] We also recall our visit to State House on our own, and together with other Religious Leaders in which we discussed the need for A People Driven Constitutional Review Process. The need for change of the Constitution was brought about by the people, the Religious Leaders and later Inter Parliamentary Patry Group (IPPG). Everyone knows that the meetings of BOMAS I and II led to Safari Park I to IV after which the new Act on Constitutional Change was enacted in Parliament. President Moi gave assent to it. In fact he signed it, a proof that a consensus had been reached. The hopes of Kenyans were raised, after all the interested parties, namely Politicians, Religious Leaders and the Civil Society were all in agreement. The challenge was the way forward.

    We really wonder why the President and KANU in particular, other political parties and stakeholders are taking Kenyans so entirely for granted. The present stalemate is the result of KANU’s negative role in not allowing proportional representation by political parties in the seats allocated to them.

  3. To reject what was clearly passed by an Act of Parliament and signed by the President is a breach of law, passed by the highest authority of the Land. On the other hand the Opposition parties do not trust KANU and between the two, the Civil Society (Citizenry) is in total confusion. By purporting that the Constitution be reviewed in Parliament there is no way it will come back to reflect the wishes of Kenyans bearing in mind the present scenario and political stand of many of the Parliamentarians. In fact by sending it back to the same Parliament where it has already passed is trivializing Parliament.

    If the custodians of the law cannot respect so obvious a thing as what they themselves passed in Parliament, then what they are telling Kenyans is that they have no business in reviewing the Constitution.

    It is a fact that, most of our present political leaders and parties are afraid of the Constitutional Review Process over which they may not have the total control. It is not that they do not trust Kenyans to decide their own future, rather it would seem that this process is deeply tied with Succession Issues. We appeal to our political parties to adopt an attitude of goodwill and reconciliation in order to forge ahead with the Constitutional Review Process.

  4. A People Driven Constitution

  5. As we have already said in the past, the Kenyan people must be heard and involved in the Process of the Review of the Constitution. The entire process must involve all Kenyans. [3]

    Let Kenyans who have already put so much hope in this Review Process be given a chance to state how they want to be governed. This is their right. Kenyans know how they want to be governed. To deny them this role is to abuse and to take for granted their love for Peace. We strongly call upon the Politicians to listen to the people who elected them. We also strongly call for a non-selfish and patriotic commitment to Kenya and say NO to a selfish hidden agenda. The Politicians have no right to force Kenyans to accept their selfish ideas.

    We are also deeply astounded by President Moi’s recent statement that the present Constitution is good for Kenyans, East African Standard 10th September, 1999. If the present Constitution is good for Kenyans as President Moi claims, then we should not have wasted our time and resources to discuss the review. And why did he give assent to the Act of Parliament to review the Constitution? We appeal to the President and other parties to have the future of this country at heart.

    What we are saying is that Kenyans have invested heavily in the Review Process and it must be continued; at all costs. No more delaying tactics. The Constitution has to be reviewed to meet the needs of Kenyans and not the whims of some political party or a particular leader.

  6. Problems Facing the Country at the Moment

  7. Looking at the current state of the country, at a time when HIV/AIDS is killing hundreds of people daily, poverty, insecurity, corruption, hunger, collapsed infrastructure, downright theft of public land, property and funds, and the lack of genuine political will, the situation can easily lead to civil strife which nobody would like to see happening. If it happens, and we hope it does not, the current Political Leadership will be squarely accountable for it. They therefore should not take the silence of Kenyans as a sign of contentment or defeat. The Kenyans of today are only too aware of the above issues compared to the Kenyans of yesteryears.

  8. A Call to Prayer and Action

  9. We cannot accept calls to bring the already consented, accepted, and enacted Act of Constitution back to the Parliament. We would indeed be failing in our duty to God and to our people. We would like to make the following points:

    • The Attorney General is responsible for the implementation of the Review Act.
    • The wish of Parliament cannot be obstructed by any partisan interest or interference even from higher levels.

    The proportional representation of political parties has already been recommended by the Safari Park meetings. The steps would therefore be the following:

    1. Let Political parties honour the sharing of thirteen (13) seats allocated to them.
    2. The Attorney General to implement the Act.
    3. His Excellency the President should allow the process to continue.
    4. Let the people discuss, and fully participate in their own Constitution Review as passed by the Parliament.

    It is the right of Kenyans to state how they want to be governed. Anyone calling for anything less is denying them their God-given right.

    We assure our Faithful and people of goodwill that we will not sit back and see this country going down the drain. However we shall continue to educate and facilitate civic education program through grassroots to grassroots campaign to ensure that their right to participate in the Constitutional Review Process is fully respected and achieved.

    As shepherds whose only thought and wish is the welfare of the people, we appeal to all believers in God to pray, and not to lose hope for this action. This we shall always do as our Lord calls us to pray without ceasing. [4] We believe in the power of prayer, action and peace... “blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” [5] To this end we invite all our faithful men and women of goodwill to join us in prayer on Sunday 17th October, 1999 at the Holy Family Basilica, Nairobi.

    Finally we appeal to Kenyan leaders in Government to put the welfare of the people before their personal interest and clamour for power.

    The Catholic Bishops of Kenya

Notes

[1] John 8: 32.
[2] Address by His Excellency, The President on 5/5/97.
[3] A Call to Change of Heart. Bishop's Pastoral Letter. 2/4/1995 No. 6 – ADS No: 438.
[4] Lk. 18: 1.
[5] Matt. 5:9.