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Now, finally, hand back real power to the people

“All sovereign power belongs to the people of Kenya…”

If that single sentence – the first one in our new constitution – is implemented to its fullest, our twenty-year wait will have been worth it.

Those in favour outnumbered those against, two to one, and so we have a new constitution. Those who backed it fully and said ‘Yes’ at the polls – rejoice. Those who found unsettling things in it and voted ‘No’ – rejoice also, for you live in a country that allowed you to object and have your say.

Kenya was the winner this week. Not just because we have a new constitution, but because of the way we voted for one. We went to the polls in an orderly fashion, mixed freely, incited no violence, and went home to await the result in peace. That, after the enormous mess that was our last poll in 2007, was our greatest recent achievement.

This constitution is going to have far reaching changes. So many, in fact, that no lawyer or pundit can even pretend to know what lies ahead. All we can safely say is that we have a chance for a new dawn, one in which power genuinely flows back to the people where it belongs. For too long we have been subject to the whims, fancies and impunities of the political elite. Now power will flow back through devolution; through the bill of rights; through the curtailment of executive power; through channels too plentiful to mention.

Of course, there are roadblocks ahead. The necessary laws still have to pass through that hornets’ nest we call parliament. Leading politicos are now going to indulge in every possible machination to ensure that they gain the most mileage from the new dispensation. Be that as it may; Kenyans have reason to hope again, and will not squander the opportunity to embed the key gains made this week.

Some congratulations are in order. First and foremost, to the Interim Independent Electoral Commission. After 2008, it seemed we might never again run a peaceful, competent or fair election, such was the magnitude of bungling and dishonour of the IIEC’s predecessor authority. The new commissioners, with great competence and foresight, showed that the last election was a violent aberration, one that we have consigned to history.

Let us not forget the forgotten: those ladies and gentlemen of the Committee of Experts who achieved mission impossible: giving Kenyans a constitution that could actually pass through the hands of nefarious politicians and be voted upon. The CoE built on the efforts of their many predecessors and took the process to its final conclusion. We stand and applaud.

But amidst all the applause, a stab of reality. Studying the queues of voters brought home an uncomfortable fact. This constitution was voted on in the main by three types of Kenyans: those who could not read it; those who could read it but not understand it; and those who could begin to understand it but never absorb its implications. This is confirmed by the spread of national results: people voted along parochial lines, guided by their big men.

When both the current and former presidents went to vote, the dilapidated state of the schools in which they voted could not be disguised. They were crumbling and decrepit; yet it is in those classrooms that the future is to be made. I wonder if the two gentlemen felt any pain for this state of affairs.

A new constitution cannot evade the fact that Kenyans remain mired in ignorance and under-education. This is a situation conspired into by all politicians since independence, for it suits them to have those made meek by ignorance as their followers. If there is to be a flow of power back to the people, let it be first and foremost in the river of education.

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