Who will we entrust with the new Kenyan Constitution?
By Ngunjiri Wambugu
Last week I was invited to speak at Saba Saba Memorial Forum. In my speech I honestly admitted that my understanding about what they call ‘the struggle’ is limited to what I have read over the years, and that when some of my friends who were in this ‘struggle’ call me ‘comrade’, I feel weird. However as I sat through the Prime Minister’s reflections on the Kenyan reform movement and its encounters with reactionary forces over the years I realized that we must all be able to make the distinction between these two groups; especially as we head into the next general elections.
According to Wikipedia a reform movement is a social movement that aims to make gradual change in certain aspects of society. Reformist ideas are grounded on liberalism, socialism or religion. Reactionary movements on the other hand are social movements that arise specifically against reform movements, in an attempt to reverse things back to the way they were before the reform-driven changes were effected; or to prevent any such changes.
Kenya has clearly gone through ‘gradual changes in certain aspects of society’ so it is safe to say that a reform movement has certainly been in existence over these years. We now have substantially more democratic space especially as regards freedom of expression, a growing recognition of human rights, and what the whole world states is one of the most progressive constitutions ever passed by any nation.
On the other hand there have been forces fighting all the changes above. During the formation of the Kenyan state when the reformers were agitating for self-rule, the reactionaries were collaborating with the colonial government. In the Kenyatta regime when some forces were pushing for equitable distribution of resources, reactionary forces created a dictatorial system to fight these changes; in Moi’s regime when reformists demanded multi-party politics they had to contend with reactionary forces that stated KANU was ‘Baba na Mama’ of all things politics. In Kibaki’s government as reformists have fought to consolidate the gains made so far, the reactionary forces have been fighting to take us back to what seems to look like the Jomo Kenyatta’s years.
The fight between the two forces has been direct and/or indirect; peaceful and/or bloody, but consistent since the establishment of the Kenyan state. This is bound to continue for the foreseeable future. Two general elections have seen a clear political contest between the two; 1963 and 2002.
In 1963 the contest was between reformers behind the fight for independence and collaborators of the then status quo. Kenyans chose the reactionary forces, who created a political system similar to the colonial-era one; including political assassinations, single-party machinations, and dictatorship. This system operated for 40 years;- an entire generation.
In 2002 the contest was between reformers behind the fight for political pluralism, and reactionaries who wanted a continuation of KANU politics. Kenyans chose the reformers. Despite the challenges we have gone through so far we have an expanded democratic space, and a constitution that fundamentally changes how Kenya’s politics are run. The reformists have however had an uphill task fighting a 40-year old reactionary-based system that are still resisting change, or is attempting to reverse such changes.
Whatever the case the lessons from 1963 and 2002 are that you only tell the force in power by what happens under them; not by what they call themselves. If status quo remains, or changes are reversed, then it is the reactionaries in power. If fundamental change happens to how society operates, then it is a reformist government in power. However, as in all things, the line between the two is blurred, but if had to deal with clear black and white I would say that the post-1963 government was led by reactionaries up until 2002; and reformists have been in power since 2003.
In less than 12 months Kenyans will be asked to decide who of the two, to entrust with the process of implementing our new constitution. The ‘Reformers’ are promising that they will fully implement the constitution, equitably distribute access to socio-political and economic development, diffuse regional tensions and ensure that the gains made under Kibaki especially as regards democratic space, are safe-guarded and improved. The ‘Reactionaries’ clearly believe Kenya has ‘too much democracy’ and they would want us to go back to a more dictatorial political system where government as a unit (including the Judiciary and Parliament) do what they are told, and where power is centralized. This team has even publicly stated that the time for reforms, is over.
Since the two teams do not wear black and white hats we must dig deeper for answers to who is who. First one must ask what would have happened to Kenya if for example a Dedan Kimathi-led government had taken power in 1963? What if an Uhuru Kenyatta-led government took over in 2003? Then one must ask whether Candidate ‘X’ will improve on the changes in the new constitution, or reverse them?
Now can you tell who is who?
The writer is a commentator on Kenyan social and political matters affairsngunjiri@change-associates.