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Kenya:Constitutional Review Talks Finally Begin

In Kenya, the government and the main opposition party the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM-Kenya) have just held constitutional review talks for minimum reforms ahead of this year’s elections. There is speculation, however, that an ODM demand for equal representation could delay the talks. Meanwhile lobby groups in the country, including the civil society, have vowed not to recognize the talks because they were not included.

Koigi Wamwere is Kenya’s deputy minister for information. From the capital, Nairobi he told VOA via telephone that the talks were positive.

“I know that the government side was to meet the other side, that is the side that is calling for minimum reform. And I know that at least the chairman of the parliamentary committee that deals with constitutional matters was very positive the last time I had him talk about it. He kind of gave the impression that he was hopeful that they would make some progress,” he said.

Wamwere said he was aware of the opposition’s demands for the talks.

“I know last week also, one of the leaders of ODM, Raila Odinga, was saying that ODM would take twelve members so that they can be at par during the talks. But the Moite (chairman of the talks) was saying that he didn’t see the fight over numbers because there was not going to be any voting at all. It was just a question of getting the two sides to create some understanding and to see how they can push the process forward,” Wamwere noted.

He decried what he said is too much partisan politics being infused into the moral fabric of the nation, which he said is destructive.

“You see the problem with the whole process is that there is too much politics. In my view, we should try and make whatever changes to the constitution because we reckon that the nation needs these changes,” he said.

Wamwere cautioned there would be repercussions if the civil society goes ahead with its threats.

“If the civil society say that they are not going to recognize the results, what will happen is that sooner rather than later the group would get too big, it would be very difficult to reach some unanimity on some issues, and we would be back to square one, and before we know, the elections will catch up with us before we had made any changes to the constitution. That is my fear,” he said.

He said although the government wants a discussion on who wins the majority of votes, using the constitutional provision of 50% plus one, that provision, he said, could be misused.

“To tell you the truth, as long as negative ethnicity or tribalism is entrenching itself in the politics of this country, that provision can be misused very badly, where all the other communities could be rallied to vote against the government candidate not because of his failure, but simply because he happens to be a Kikuyu president who must be defeated because he us a Kikuyu,” he said.

Wamwere said if politics were devoid of tribalism, he would give the constitutional provision of the 50% plus one his backing.

“If we don’t have the problem of tribalism or negative ethnicity, I would very strongly support the idea of 50% plus one because then that would make sure that a minority president can no longer be in power as was the case in the past. So we are caught between the rock and a hard place,” he said.