New Envoy Lauds New Kenyan Constitution, Download a Free Copy!
Kenyan Ambassador to the US, H.E. Elkanah Odembo addresses a public forum at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts. H.Maina/AjabuImages
By Harrison Maina, Ajabu Africa News, posted September 18, 2010
CAMBRIDGE, Mass. ,_At this week’s public forum at the prestigious Harvard University, the new Kenyan Ambassador to the US, H.E. Elkanah Odembo lauded the new Kenyan constitution just promulgated four weeks ago, calling it “one of the best in the world”, and predicting that it will pay dividends sooner than later.
The envoy said this last tuesday while addressing a public forum at an event hosted by the Harvard Kennedy School and held at the Harvard Graduate School of Education in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
The event was hosted by Professor Calestous Juma, and attended by a large group of diverse guests that included dozens of multinational students and teachers from the University and other Universities in the commonwealth.
Also present was Bishop Joshua Wambua of the Rapture Harvest Mission International based in Wakefield and Pastor Ben Njuru of Compassionate church based in Worcester, as well as regular Kenyan citizens from several cities in Massachusetts.
The new chief of protocol at the Kenyan Embassy in Washington DC, Waithera Njuguna, accompanied Ambassador Odembo to the forum.
Addressing the guests, the ambassador said that Kenya has made a remarkable comeback since the disputed elections of 2007, which caused loss of lives and property before peace was restored after warring parties agreed to a government of National Coalition.
He said that among the key achievements that the government of Kenya had delivered to the people was a peaceful constitutional review process, that resulted in a brand new constitution that reflected the views of the wider Kenyan community, and a GDP growth rate of 4%, putting the country back on track to achieving the envisioned dream of Kenya Vision 2030.
“We have achieved what many other countries have not been able to achieve; which is to deliver a brand new constitution to the people, and doing so in a peaceful manner, which many experts agree is very rare,” said Odembo.
Kenyan Ambassador to the US, H.E. Elkanah Odembo
The Ambassador congratulated Kenyans for having persevered through a lot of problems before the new constitution became a reality.
He said that between 1963 and 1983, a period of 20 years, Kenya had managed to amend her constitution 20 times as opposed to America which had amended their constitution about the same time in over 200 years.
“And we amended our constitution for the worse,” he added, amusing the learned crowd at the number one University in the world.
“Some of the drawbacks that prompted constitutional amendments were the lack of checks and balances and concentration of power in Nairobi”, he said.
In doing so, Odembo continued, “the then status quo had marginalized a good part of the country and turned Kenya into a single party state”.
However, that changed in 1991 when Kenya became a multiparty state country, which saw several political parties merge forces to create the IPPG (Inter Parties Parliamentary group).
Agitating for more change, the IPPG caused amendments which also saw the civil service, the media and private institutions play a big role to negotiate with the government of the day for way to improve the Kenyan constitution.
Odembo said that with the constitutional review Act in place in 2001, a constitutional review commission spent the subsequent year and a half going around the entire 210 constituencies in Kenya collecting views from the public which would later be presented at the constitutional review conference at the end of 2002.
He added that, having been one of the delegates to the constitutional conference at the Bomas of Kenya which started at the end of 2002, where the views of Kenyans gathered by a constitutional review commission were tabled, he witnessed a the process of reviewing the great document take shape.
A Kenyan student from MIT poses a question to the Ambassador
However, “the draft constitution that was presented had been tampered with by vested interests, mainly on the issue of devolution of the executive power”, said Odembo.
“So Kenyans rejected it .We went into a referendum and came out of it in 2005 as a very polarized nation”.
He said that due to the polarization caused by the failed referundum, the National Rainbow coalition started limping, and the polarization was carried into the 2007 elections.
“We had big unresolved issues and it all played out in the presidential elections,” said the Ambassador.
But thanks to the intervention the former secretary General to the UN, Kofi Annan, and a group of other eminent persons, a peace deal was struck between the two main principals.
The principals agreed to items on Agenda 4, which laid out several things that were put in place to ensure that those things that caused the violence in the general elections would not be repeated.
Among those various things on Agenda 4 was, in order to accommodate as many regions as possible in the government, Kenya bloated its government to 42 ministers and an almost equal number of assistant ministers, out of the 210 available constituencies.
Also, a number of institutions were put in place, such as the committee of experts, CoE, which brought together experts from various fields, which was charged with a duty writing a new harmonized draft constitution that was to be subjected to a referendum.
“That committee served us extremely well,” said Odembo. He added that every name that was proposed to the CoE was thoroughly scrutinized so it was a very good committee. It was much diversified, with lawyers, diplomats, top civil servants and others experts,” he added.
Attendees asking questions
As a result, the electoral commission of Kenya was disbanded and an independent Interim electoral commission put in place which has already delivered 5 well managed by-elections and the just concluded peaceful referendum.
Other commissions were also put in place like the borders commission that went around the country collecting views about boundaries and thus did a great job at coming up with a comprehensive land policy that was missing by the last general elections.
The land issue was one of the key points that led to the escalation of violence during the 2007 elections.
Therefore, as a result of the overwhelmingly “yes” vote in the referendum which ushered in the new constitution, things have changed and now Kenya is peaceful and there is real hope.
Odembo congratulated the media and the civil society for serving Kenya well at raising the level of political and constitutional awareness.
“When I visit my mother back in the village and engage her into the new constitution, she talks of chapters in the constitution,” he added, amusing the learned crowd at Harvard.
The Ambassador said that among the major items in the new constitution was the Bill of rights found in chapter 4 of the constitution which guarantees a wide range of rights to Kenyans.
“I can say without fear of contradiction that it is one of the best in the world”.
He encouraged Kenyans in the Diaspora to read the new constitution so that they can be politically and constitutionally aware like their countrymen back home.
Also, in recognition of the input the Kenyans in the Diaspora are putting towards development of Kenya, the new constitution has allowed for duo citizenship for Kenyans abroad so that they may contribute to the development of Kenya more.
He said that the new constitution addressed a wide range of tough issues that has dogged Kenya in the past including the land and boundaries issue, and the devolution of power so that counties can have independence at making decisions of allocating their resources rather than the office of the president, among others.
“The idea that the National resources belong to Kenyans and therefore we must divide them to all Kenyans in an equitable manner is very appealing”.
As a result, the devolution of power has led to the country being divided into 47 counties including Nairobi.
“Devolution, I think, will pay dividends very quickly,” said Odembo, sounding frankly optimistic. “If a county wants to do business with Uganda, it is up to them,” he added.
Kenyans surround Ambassador Odembo for more information
He said that already, the business community is very optimistic after the things that were put in place after the 2007 elections, and they are already working towards attaining the Vision 2030.
He informed guests that Kenya’s GDP grew from 2.0 % in 2002 and ended at 6.8% in 2007, when the violence led to a big drop, but now is back on the upward trend at 4.0 %.
“Very few countries can do that, even the US would feel jealous of such a growth rate,” he said causing laughter in the hall.
The ambassador said that if you talk to the Kenyan business people, they tell you that the economy is not the problem, and if the politics is fixed, everything else will work marvelously.
He said that Kenya can now easily attain the Vision 2030 because “we now have a good government structure in place, a vision and a human resource sector that is very innovative”.
“One in every two Kenyans now has a mobile phone. We are leading in mobile banking technology in the world and the people are eager to do things.”
However, he cautioned that the success of the new constitution does not automatically guarantee a smooth election come the year 2012 or automatic wealth creation.
“We as Kenyans tend to be excited a bit too much during elections. We hope we will not see a repeat of the previous violence in the next general elections in 2012.
He said that several other issues pose a challenge to the future of Kenya, and must be addressed quickly.
Among the challenges he mentioned were the issue of ethnicity that continues to haunt Kenyans especially around election time. We need to work quickly in helping Kenyans deal with this. He added that he hopes the new constitution will be our common denominator so that we can all build one nation.
Other challenges mentioned were the extremely high poverty levels among the majority of Kenyans while a small minority enjoys extreme wealth.
Saying that 75% of the Kenyan population is aged 30 years and below, and are poor, the new Ambassador clarified that this is a dangerous situation if not addressed in the right way.
Youths corner the Ambassador for more more questions
“If this group of people are not educated and has no jobs, yet they see very wealthy people around them, they feel disenfranchised, hopeless and with nothing to loose”. They can therefore cause big trouble, like they did in 2007,” cautioned Ambassador Odembo.
He said that among things that can be done to alleviate this problem was to reshape our education policies so that it can be content driven to make our youths competitive in the world rather than the same old cramming of information.
We need to forge partnerships with institutions of higher learning in the US and elsewhere to provide valuable content to our people in the Diaspora and in Kenya.
Big on philanthropy and social causes, Odembo said that the private sector and the NGO’s also should increase the donations they send to Kenya to develop our resources and help the youth.
“We have a moment and an opportunity, let’s make use of It,” he challenged the large number of Kenyan students present at the lecture, who came from various institutions including a large number from Harvard.
Welcoming the Ambassador to the podium, the host of the event, Prof. Calestous Juma said that Kenya was on the verge of great success especially after succeeding with the new constitution.
“Things are now changing for the better in Kenya with the new constitution. The government has appointed a new generation of diplomats. Ambassador Elkanah Odembo is one of those".
The event host, Prof. Calestous Juma , moderates during question time
Professor Juma thanked the Ambassador for paying a visit to Harvard University and wished him well in his new appointment.
During a post speech question and answer time, Odembo took questions from guests, on the effects and meaning of the new constitution to the country of Kenyan and the region at large.
An uneasy moment ensued when Odembo was forced to respond to a question on the same sex marriage situation according to the new bill of rights.
Odembo said that in the new constitution, Kenyans decided to define the institution of marriage as one between a man and a woman, prompting a lone Kenyan in the crowd to applaud loudly while the crowd stared back at the Ambassador.
At the end of the event, Kenyan students surrounded the Ambassador in the hallway and demanded more information on various issues, while Odembo challenged those youths to remain focused on their education and get organized into groups so that they would be able to lobby for better things. For comments, click here