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February 18, 2019

What Does It Really Mean To Vote Wisely In March?

COUNTDOWN: A policeman holds a ballot box at Westlands in Nairobi during the ODM nominations on January 17. Photo/David Ndolo
COUNTDOWN: A policeman holds a ballot box at Westlands in Nairobi during the ODM nominations on January 17. Photo/David Ndolo

Election Day is just a couple of weeks away, and as political competition intensifies, Kenyans are getting all sort of advice on how they should vote.

“Vote wisely”—is the common message being sent out to Kenyan voters as the March 4 polls get closer. But the question is; what does it mean to vote wisely? What will guide Kenyans into casting their vote wisely?

So far, there are three leading presidential tickets slugging it out for top honours— the Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (Cord) led by Prime Minister Raila Odinga, the Jubilee Coalition of Uhuru Kenyatta and the Amani Coalition of Musalia Mudavadi.

In this regard, voting wisely would mean choosing one of these coalitions above the rest. But given the nature of our society, the history of our country and the challenges we face today, what should Kenyans consider most in order to vote wisely?

The issue majority of Kenyans will, undoubtedly, be considering most when they cast their ballots on March 4 is which leadership can be trusted with the implementation of the new constitution. In this regard, the implementation of the constitution will, most likely, be the top issue on the mind of majority of voters.

History shows that the March 4 elections present the same challenges the nation faced 50 years ago when the country attained independence in 1963.

At independence, the aspirations of Kenyans lay in the new structure of government that was anchored on a constitution based on devolution of power and resources, equity in distribution and sharing of national resources and a two-chamber parliament to ensure effective representation of the people.

But all those aspirations died and vaporized because the leadership that took over government was not committed to principles of devolution, equity and effective representation that the independence constitution espoused. Upon taking over power, they mutilated the constitution because they did not believe in it, thus killing the aspirations of Kenyans for good governance, equity, devolution and effective representation.

Looking at the March 4 elections, one notices that the aspirations of majority of Kenyans, like in 1963, lie in the new constitution which provides for devolution, equitable distribution of resources, fairness in land use and ownership, two-chamber parliament, etc.

The question, therefore, is— who among the available coalitions can be trusted to uphold the letter and spirit of the new constitution? To answer, let’s look back into history.

As the independence of African countries became fait accompli by the mid 1950s, certain powerful selfish interests had feared the coming of majority rule in Kenya. Nonetheless, the British government had to acknowledge that Africans could no longer be excluded from the political process in Kenya.

In this regard, the British administration introduced the Lyttleton Plan of 1957 under which the first African representatives were elected to the Legislative Council (LEGCO) of Kenya.

They were Mboya, Ngala, Moi, Mate, Ogundu, Muliro, Odinga and Muimi— their first legislative act was to reject the proposed Lyttleton Constitution which was an interim reform document meant to last until 1960, but which ensured the continued dominance of European members in decision-making.

After rejecting the Lyttleton Constitution, the African Legco members formed the African Elected Members Organization and sent Ronald Ngala and Tom Mboya to London as a delegation to press for an entirely new constitution— one that was not only workable, but which would enable African members to accept ministerial responsibility.

By the end of 1959, the British Secretary of State declared an end to the State of Emergency imposed in 1952, and announced a conference to consider constitutional progress to be held in London in February 1960. Virtually the whole of the Kenya Legislative Council turned up to the first constitutional conference at Lancaster House, sitting under the chairmanship of Colonial Secretary Ian Macleod.

For those round-table talks, the African members of Legco had achieved an understanding with the joint delegation led by Ngala (KNP) and Mboya (KIM), in what Odinga later described as a ‘precarious compromise’.

The first Lancaster House conference thus resulted in a new constitution for Kenya, which came in force after the general election of February 1961. But before that could happen, the whole political process had to open to include the people. Incredibly, the African leaders had been operating all this time without the benefit of true political parties.

In May 1960, the first draft of the Kenya African National Union (KANU) constitution was adopted by its preparatory committee’s first national conference held in Kiambu. Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) would be formed soon afterwards at Ngong, as well as other parties which embarked on campaigning for the forthcoming elections.

On February 26 and 27, 1961, the first ever general election on a common roll was held. Over 800,000 people voted with 84 percent turnout. KANU won almost half the seats in an outright victory but refused to form a government until Kenyatta was released.

KADU promptly stepped in to form “a government of minorities” but this proved to be an uncomfortable situation. Kenyatta would be released from detention in August 1961 and was immediately elected president of KANU— by early 1962, he had been elected unopposed to Legco in a by-election at Fort Hall.

The new Colonial Secretary, Maudling, later agreed with a Kenyatta–led KANU delegation to London that a new independence constitution should be worked out in Nairobi.

The second Lancaster House conference started on 12 February 1962 and lasted until May. It first examined KANU’s draft and then turned its attention to KADU’s draft.

But at one point in the proceedings, Kenyatta said that the Gikuyu must be allowed to take up land in Rift Valley, at that time largely owned by Europeans where the Kikuyu were employed as farm labourers and squatters. Immediately there was a long-drawn out ‘’Aaaaah!’’ from the Kalenjin and Maasai representatives, and Willie Murgor, from Eldoret, produced a whistle and blew a note of alarm on it, thus establishing a whistle-blowing tradition in Kenya. This caused deep suspicion on all sides.

Maudling finally called for a compromise plan that would include the provision of a Central Government but with the principal of regionalism incorporated in it through the establishment of six regional assemblies that would have regional administrative and financial control and executive powers over local land.

All crown and trust land would be under regional control, and the scheduled land would be under a special national board. Maudling was insisting on devolved government, and since everyone wanted independence as soon as possible, KANU and KADU eventually produced a final constitution, and a Coalition Cabinet government took office in May 1962.

The Times of London would describe the proposed constitution as “a formidable instrument of government”. It was one of the most involved constitutions running to over 233 pages of checks and balances.

For eight million people, there were to be two central government assemblies (House of Representatives and Senate) and seven regional assemblies, separate judiciaries, police forces, and public service commissions. In essence, the independence constitution embraced the concept of devolution the same way the 2010 constitution does.

But all this would go down the drain soon after the May 1963 elections which KANU overwhelmingly won. With a strong mandate from the electorate, KANU went to the September constitutional conference with a draft emphasizing strong central government since KADU had no clear mandate from the people to push for the devolved system.

With KANU calling the shots, there were major alterations to the 1962 constitution, including the setting up of a single public service commission, instead of seven regional ones, and the establishment of a single police force under the control of Central Government.

The government under Prime Minister Kenyatta was also empowered to seek the support of the electorate by way of a referendum if parliament could not see its way to agree to further substantial constitutional amendments. Thus the instruments of state power were passed to the new executive, legislature, and judiciary of the newly created independent nation of Kenya, on 12 December, 1963, in a very fluid constitutional condition, under the Kenya Independence Act, 1963.

The devolved elements of the constitution of Kenya could only be changed legally if 75 percent of the members of both houses of parliament voted to do so. While KANU had a large majority, it did not have enough votes to change the constitution.

Much public political debate and private political negotiation ensured, until, on the 10 November, 1964, all the KADU members of parliament in both the House of Representatives and the Senate crossed the floor to join KANU thus forming a political monopoly that could effect constitutional change. It was quick to come.

The death of the devolved system of government after independence came on October 7, 1964 when Tom Mboya of KANU rose in the House of Representatives in his capacity as Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs and said;

‘’…so, we propose that strong national leadership be assured by election of a president who is Head of Government instead of the illusory arrangement in which you have a constitutional President and someone else as Head of Government. This arrangement is just not understood by our people, it is foreign to them. The historical process by which, in other lands, Heads of State, whether Kings or Presidents, have become figureheads are no part of our African tradition. So, in this respect, we politely reject the Westminster model. The man we choose for our president will be the leader of our nation and the leader of our government, and this, Sir, is what our people understand.”

From that day onwards, the independence constitution was mutilated through self-serving amendments by a rubber-stamp parliament thus killing all the aspirations for good governance that Kenyans had— all this was courtesy of a leadership that did not believe in devolution of power and resources taking over government.

With the benefit of this history, majority of Kenyans head to the March 4 polls with the understanding that that the nation has come full circle and faces the same political challenge it faced in 1963.

Many will, therefore, vote wisely and voting wisely means supporting the coalition that can be trusted with the implementation of the new constitution— a coalition that will not mutilate the new constitution the way those who did not believe in devolution, equity and effective representation of the people did with the independence constitution.


The writer is the deputy Secretary General of Supreme Council of Kenya Muslims (SUPKEM) and the Secretary General of the Muslim Leaders Forum.

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