By Mourice Seretta
President Uhuru Kenyatta and his handshake partner former Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Wednesday officially launched the campaign to collect the requisite one million signatures of registered voters to back the draft constitutional amendment bill brought about by the Building bridges initiative.
The head of state said that the launch was a proud moment for the country’s democratic system of government, which holds that Kenya is a nation of equal citizens striving for the betterment of families, communities and country.
‘We are gathered here today for an exercise in citizenship. We do so in fidelity with the tenets of our participatory democracy by presenting the proposed changes to our Constitution, as we seek your support through a referendum. Democracy is dynamic because people are dynamic. We change as individuals; our families grow; we encounter challenges some that are unexpected and devastating. We embrace opportunities, many of which are transformative and uplifting. The reality of life demands constant change if we are to solve our challenges and capitalize on our opportunities,’ President Kenyatta said.
President Kenyatta said that the nation is a product of continuous evolution and a product made, constantly and purposively adding that the tree of the nation is watered with a constant stream of ideas.
He further said that the only thing that is static and does not change is that which is DEAD.
‘History is a graveyard of empires and nations that died because, they responded to the changing dynamics affecting them by digging in their heels and resisting change. As I said when I was delivering my State of the Nation Address, a nation is work in progress. That is why the idea of “nation-building” was on the lips of our Founding fathers and the leaders of a young Kenya. One of the greatest acts of nation-building in our history was the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution,’ He said.
The head of state also said that the sacred document (BBI) contains the democratic dream of Kenya that demanded great sacrifices from many Kenyans, known and unknown and that as President, and a fellow citizen, gave thanks to the gallant Kenyans who argued, advocated for, and suffered so that the Constitution would come alive.
‘For decades, our heroes woke up wishing for us a better Kenya, a strengthening of our democracy and governance. In 2010, when my predecessor lifted the new Constitution high, all of us cheered entering a new phase in the life of this great Republic. We knew then, as we know now, that no document is perfect and that time does not stand still. That is the reason the framers of the Constitution gave us the ability to change it, but in a way that protects its core democratic character,’ he added.
President Kenyatta further stated that the need for change of the constitution has been with Kenyans for some time and that it has been evident in the never-ending threat of post-election violence; in the growing feelings that its design lacks inclusivity; and that it promotes unfair and skewed representation and unfair distribution of national resources.
He said the country needed to strengthen the 2010 constitution if we are to continue our decades-long journey in seeking to advance the well-being of all Kenyans.
‘Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and I came to this realization when we held talks that led to the Handshake in 2018. Many Kenyans have forgotten what was happening at that time. We were on the verge of divisiveness that would have deeply undermined our continued unity and peace. There were even those reckless few who threatened the destruction of the nation; actually got a hearing from sections of the public that felt only drastic action could ease their frustrations. So many countries, some that we share borders with, have trodden a similar path to destruction and ruin,’ the head of state explained.
The head of the state disclosed that as one who consumes firsthand information before any Kenyan if there had been no Handshake, the country would have been brought to its knees by very dangerous forces- the reckless aggressiveness of some, and the triumphant, chest-thumping and stone-walling by others.
‘The Handshake stabilized the country and have afforded us the opportunity to identify the practical reforms that would strengthen our unity, inclusivity, equity and good governance. The Building Bridges Initiative was the vehicle for a national conversation that lasted over 2 years. BBI provided an opportunity for Kenyans to say what was on their minds; to provide ideas that could be effected to solve Kenya’s most intractable problems,’ he outlined.
The President highlighted some of the points and gains in the referendum bill, particularly those raised by various interest groups saying that on the gender parity and participation question, the bill ensures that women will actively be involved in all levels of representation as women leaders will now comprise 50% of all Senators. He said that means that they will be in charge of determining how we spend 35% of the resources available.
Additionally, the head of state said, there is a new mechanism for ensuring greater and meaningful participation of women in the National Assembly.
‘The drafters of the referendum bill also listened to the plight of PWDs and youths and have ensured that they be adequately represented in parliament. Kenyans consistently expressed their view that there was an urgent need to strengthen devolution. This referendum bill considers this point and proposes an increase of money available to counties. It also creates a Ward Development Fund that will be a game-changer by taking government money directly to the grassroots,’ he further highlighted.
He expressed hope that Kenyans will overwhelmingly support the amendment bill and secure their futures and our future as a united country, too.