Katiba Sasa!| July 13, 2010
As I mentioned in another post quite some time ago, the big deal this summer in
Kenya is the upcoming referendum on a proposed new Constitution. Katiba Sasa!
translates approximately to Constitution Now! and there’s been quite a big build
up preceding the August 4th vote. Both the Yes and No camps have been holding
rallies across the country (I witnessed a Yes rally in Kisumu last week) and the
national newspapers and the nightly news broadcasts feature stories and poll
statistics on the upcoming vote every day.
Two of the most divisive clauses are the one on abortion and the one on
land ownership. The abortion clause states that abortion is not permitted unless,
in the opinion of a trained health professional, it is necessary for the
health/life of the mother. In addition to the abortion debate, church leaders are
also denouncing the Constitution’s (continuing) allowance for separate Islamic
courts to handle issues of Islamic family law traditionally governed by the group’s
The land clause is also controversial – it states that Parliament may set
minimum and maximum amounts of land that can be held in private ownership, meaning
that some redistribution would be possible in the future. The idea is to ensure that
large tracts of fertile land are utilized “for the public good” by being planted/farmed
instead of lying idle under an absentee landowner. It’s not difficult to see why this
clause is undesirable to former politicians and government officials who were awarded
large tracts of land and other political favors under former, corrupt administrations.
Along with these controversies, the new Constitution would also re-structure some parts
of the government by reducing the size of the cabinet, creating a county system to
decentralize some governmental responsibilities and powers, and placing more checks on
the president. Visiting U.S. officials, including Joe Biden, have urged the Kenyan
people to vote yes, a fact that No leaders have sought to exploit by saying that if
people vote yes, they’re turning Kenya into an “American puppet.”
One thing that has been really great to see is the desire of people to educate
themselves on the new document so that they’re able to make an informed decision on Aug.
4th. The government has printed many copies of the new document, and when we meet with
groups of people, we usually bring along five to ten copies to distribute.
It will be interesting to see how the referendum turns out as it’s being held five
days before I depart – statistics fluctuate, but I think that the Yes camp will
ultimately win the day because people recognize that governmental reform is needed, and
even if the new document is imperfect, it’s at least a step.
On Friday I was able to meet with an attorney in Kisumu who has invited me to come
work with him for a week later in July. He works for a non-profit organization called
CLEAR that also received IBJ money last year and does mostly pro bono criminal work.
Should be interesting!
On my way to Kisumu to meet up with him, the vehicle I was riding in finally ran
out of gas. I say finally because I’ve been expecting this to happen for some time,
as everyone, in every type of vehicle, from matatus to motorbikes to cars, runs with
their gas gauge perpetually on E, putting in the bare minimum of a couple litres only
when it becomes absolutely necessary. At first I didn’t realize what was going on, as
the vehicle slowly rolled to a stop on the side of the road, but I quickly figured it out
as everyone else piled out and waved down a new ride. Matatus operate like a childhood
game of sardines, where first one person hides and then each subsequent person to discover
them has to cram into the same hiding spot. The game is to see just how many adults,
children, animals, and luggage items can be stuffed into a single van, designed to
transport about 14, and then drive as fast as you can with pothole avoidance optional.