Kenya: Celebrating a ‘renewed optimism’

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Thousands of Kenyans braved the early Friday morning chill in Nairobi as they thronged to Uhuru Park to witness the promulgation of the new constitution for the Republic of Kenya, a historic event described as the birth of a new republic.

President Mwai Kibaki signed the document into law at a ceremony witnessed by several heads of states and governments including President Yoweri Kaguta Museveni, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Omar El-Bashir of Sudan, Sheik Abeid Karume of Zanzibar, Ahmed Abdallah Sambi of Comoros, the former UN secretary General Kofi Annan, John Kuffour, the former president of Ghana and Jean Ping of the African Union.

“This moment marks the decisive conclusion of a twenty year journey in search of a new constitutional order. This new constitution is an embodiment of our best hopes, aspirations, ideals and values for a peaceful and more prosperous nation. It gives renewed optimism about our country and its future. It gives our nation a historic opportunity to decisively conquer the challenges that face us today and provides an avenue to renew our fight against unemployment and poverty, an opportunity to work and become a developed people and nation,” President Kibaki said shortly after taking an oath of allegiance and oath of due execution of office under the new constitution. The chief justice Evan Gicheru, the Prime Minister Raila Odinga and the Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka also took their oaths.

On August 4th, 2010, Kenyans went to the polls to decide the fate of a new constitution in a peaceful referendum that included greater checks on presidential powers proposed two years ago after allegations over vote rigging in a presidential election ignited violence that let thousands of people dead and many more injured. The adoption of the new constitution came more than three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in the national referendum, in which 66.9 percent of the 9.1 million voters voted in support of the document.

The new constitution will also address corruption, political patronage, land-grabbing and tribalism which have plagued Kenya since it won independence from Britain in 1963. It will also usher in a more decentralized political system, transferring some of the powers from the executive to the county government, which replaces the provincial administration. It will also create the second chamber of parliament, the Senate, and a land commission to regulate land.

“From this day on, the people of Kenya should embrace a new national spirit, a spirit of national inclusiveness, tolerance, harmony and unity. I appeal to Kenyans to build a nation that will be socially and economically inclusive and cohesive where all have equal access and opportunities to realize their full potential,” Kibaki said.

The ceremonies were marked by a 21 gun salute and the raising of a jumbo national flag at Uhuru Park, the releasing of doves and balloons and a spectacular show of military and civilian marches including various dances from the 40 plus provinces of Kenya.

According to the Prime Minister Raila Odinga the day marked the end of one
journey and the beginning of another. “After decades of struggle the future has finally been rewarded. Thank you Kenya, for taking destiny in your own hands. Your constitution has set us free,” he said.

The Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka described the new constitution as the first bold step to rebuild the eastern African country, adding that the country has regained its honour.

Immediately after the ceremonies at Uhuru park President Kibaki and his wife Lucy Kibaki hosted their guests at State House. President Museveni who spoke on behalf of the other heads of state and government at the luncheon congratulated the people of Kenya on what he described as a tremendous achievement of having promulgated a new constitution in a democratically agreed process by the majority of Kenyans.

Using a local Runyankole proverb – Nyakazana ayerinza ogwarakore (A
housemaid who fails to fetch water in the morning or afternoon will still fetch it tomorrow because that is her work). “The People of Kenya had a consensus earlier after independence to change their constitution. Am glad that after 47 years of independence, they have achieved it. I congratulate you on behalf of my colleagues and my country,” he said.

The President called upon the East African States to fast track economic and industrial development, warning that without this, they would be overtaken by the demographic explosion which would create problems. “We can’t afford to remain third world and hope to full fill the aspirations of these people. We can not remain agricultural based, we must industrialize. It is the duty of this generation to do this,” he said.

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