Invite Wanjiku to the
Original by Rose K. Owino
One very important delegate was missing when delegates to
Kenya’s National Constitutional Conference met for the first and
the second sittings at the Bomas' talks. Her name is Wanjiku.
The fictional woman created to represent the average Kenyan was
never offerred an opportunity to take a seat in the hearts and
minds of each delegate during deliberations.
As tempers soured and emotions flared on issues as diverse as the
creation of the post of prime minister, the kadhis courts and land
- not to forget the demands for allowances - Wanjiku was relegated
to spectator status while recommendations were made to a
constitution created in her name.
Delegates have genuine grievances borne out of a history of
decades of bad governance. The reality is that all delegates and
those they represent can legitimately claim marginalisation on
ethnic, nepotistic, economic, race, gender, rural-urban, religious,
geographic, different ablity, age, marital status - the forms of
marginalisation are innumerable. We are all marginalised on some
gradient or another.
The only space left is to start from zero and build a document
that will fulfil on the expectations and ambitions of the average
Kenyan - Wanjiku - who represents us.
Who is Wanjiku?
Using statistical data compiled by the /Institute of Economic
Affairs /it is clear Wanjiku lives in rural Kenya in a traditioanl
house where she raises her four or five children on a monthly
income of about kshs. 2000/=. Her income comes from working her
small holder farm and she sells and barters the agricultural
produce for what she needs. Wanjiku can read and write although
she probably did not complete high school. Given the lack of of
health facilities and the incidence of HIV/Aids she is likely to
die by the time she is 55. Until then, she oscillates between the
edge of survival and outright poverty. The search for firewood and
water continue to consume many hours of her productive day.
As things stand all Wanjiku’s children are looking towards a
life exactly the same as that which brought their mother to where
Will this constitution change anything for them? That is the
question that delegates must answer as they reconvene at the Bomas
of Kenya for the second leg of negotiations towards a new
If it is is to be a valid document it must answer the needs of
millions of Wanjiku’s and not those of the 600 odd delegates
Basic rights - food, health, education, security - are the
foundation for everything else.
That is not to say that an item such as the organisation of
government is not important. It is important only in the context
of Wanjiku’s life. The president and prime minister Wanjiku
asked for when the Constitution of Kenya Review Commission sought
input across the country must serve Wanjiku. Whoever the holders
of these positions are they must remain responsive and accountable
to her through provision of adequate checks and balances that
ensure she will never again have to face the raw unyielding and
sometimes cruel power of the executive which was seen in forced
harambees for dubious projects, arbitrary arrests, torture and
detention, unilateral, uncaring , political decision-making and
wild public spending with little development impact.
The current debate on who will occupy the seat is irrelevant to
everyone other that the political types aspiring to those
positions. We cannot create constitutional offices with people in
mind nor entrench structures that serve the political interests of
a restricted few.
Likewise the hot issues of the Kadhi’s courts. Rather than
whipping up religious emotions it will be important to look at
this in the context of what millions of Wanjiku’s want and would
be willing to accomodate as they have for the past 40 years. Would
it be a priority for Wanjiku to remove these rights from muslims?
There is a a world of learning available from the constitutions of
other countries and from the constitutional advice of local and
international experts. This expert advice has its place and is
irrepacable. It is however, only advice.
At the end of it all the paramount concern is that we sit and
agree on a constitution that works for each and every Kenyan, a
constitution which we collectively agree to obey and which Wanjiku
will not agitate to change again before the ink has dried on the
If Wanjiku occupies the central seat at the Constitutional Tals,
if she is referred to as each word and each article is discussed,
then we will arrive at a constitution that guides us on how to
share our resources to ensure that no-one is left without the
basics. This constitution will guide us on how we negotiate and
resolve our internal conflict on a continuing basis.
It will be a document that defines how we agree to live together
in mutual respect as Kenyans. It will be a document that we will
be ready to die defending.