WITH A STROKE OF HIS pen, amidst a passionate crowd, President Mwai Kibaki, an active figure throughout most of Kenya's 47-year history since independence, ushered in the Second Republic on 27 August 2010.
After a 20-year struggle for a new constitutional order--a struggle that saw scores of political activists, university dons and human rights defenders bludgeoned and maimed--Kenyans rose to the occasion on 4 August when 6,092,593 of them voted overwhelmingly to endorse a new constitution for the country. Some 2,795,059 voted against it.
Three weeks later, the new constitution was promulgated into law in a ceremony never before witnessed in Kenya. The Promulgation Ceremony at the aptly named Uhuru (Swahili for freedom) Park, with a full military parade in tow, saw Kenya say goodbye to the British-engineered Lancaster Constitution of 47 years ago whose first draft, according to President Kibaki, had been scripted in "a bar in downtown Nairobi".
To President Kibaki, the new constitution evoked and yet overshadowed the memories of his youth in Kenya's First Republic which began in 1963. Adorned with the country's highest honour, the Chief of the Golden Heart (CGH), which had never been seen in public before, Kibaki thundered: "This moment marks the decisive conclusion of the 20-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 us renewed optimism about our country and its future.
"Some of us were present at the birth of the First Republic. As young leaders, we envisioned turning our newly-born country into a developed nation in a generation or two. A lot has been achieved towards this goal, but much more work needs to be done. As Kenyans we should be proud of making history, as one of the few nations in the world that have successfully replaced their constitution in an atmosphere of peace."
In a ceremony estimated by the Kenyan police to have attracted a gathering of some 500,000 people, and streamed live on TV, radio and the internet, Kenya was reborn.
The event was witnessed by regional leaders such as Yoweri Museveni of Uganda, Paul Kagame of Rwanda, Abdallah Sambi of the Comoros, and Omar El Bashir of Sudan. Former Presidents John Kufuor of Ghana, Olusegun Obasanjo of Nigeria, Daniel arap Moi of Kenya, Benjamin Mkapa of Tanzania, the former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and key representatives from Ethiopia, Somalia and the Seychelles were also present.
Kenya surely rocked on that day and it is still rocking today. An ebullient Prime Minister Raila Odinga, whose family has been involved in the struggle for Kenya's open society, was not left behind. In a speech that excited the crowd, he intoned:
"No one could have thought that out of the bitter harvest of the disputed election [of December 2007] and the violence that pitted our people against each other just two years ago, we would be witnessing today the birth of a national unity that has eluded us for more than 40 years.
"Today we close a long chapter in our history. We put repression, exclusion and heroic struggle behind us once and for all. We have opened a clean new page in our book. On that page we begin writing the story of an equal and just society."
And Odinga was not finished: "We gather here," he continued, "to ratify the pledge we made to ourselves and to the world, that Kenya shall redeem herself and extend the frontiers of democracy and freedom ... The promise of this new beginning will be challenged by our traditional enemies; corruption and negative ethnicity. We must be vigilant and stop corruption from stealing our future and negative ethnicity from weakening our nationhood."
The new constitution's key highlights include a significant redistribution of powers and instituting checks and balances to curb the excesses of the presidency. …