News / Africa

New Constitution Means Major Changes for Kenya

A man casts his ballot in during Kenya's constitutional referendum
A man casts his ballot in during Kenya's constitutional referendum

In a referendum held during the first week of August, voters in Kenya overwhelmingly approved a new constitution, replacing one that was drafted during the country's colonial era.   Among other things, the document sets out a Bill of Rights, creates a National Land Commission, and de-centralizes political power.  Many Kenyans see the vote as paving the way for greater government accountability and a fairer distribution of resources.  But analysts say the tough work is just beginning.

Some lined up for hours to tick off either a green "Yes" box or a red "No" box on their ballots.  In the end, almost 70 percent of Kenyans who voted threw their weight behind the "Yes" side.

"In the Kenyan history for women, we have not had so many rights, especially for inheritance (and) land: the men inherit; it is very traditional. So for us now [the new constitution] is giving us rights as women to be able to inherit land, equal opportunities, all those things," said Violet Kairu, one of the "Yes" supporters.

This is the first time in Kenya's post-colonial history that the constitution has been changed.  The push for a new constitution began in the early 1990s, but a previous referendum failed to pass.

The new document contains Kenya's first-ever Bill of Rights, which states that every Kenyan has the right to such basics as clean water, decent housing, sanitation, and an adequate supply and quality of food.

Fred Olendo is with the National Council of NGOs, an umbrella group that works with national and international aid agencies.  He thinks the Bill of Rights will ensure a better life for the almost 50 percent of Kenyans living below the poverty line.

"If we do not have enough food and housing, the government cannot use money for things like building roads or other areas," said Olendo.  "It will also put in the mind of the employees or the general populace that everybody has a right to eat, and everybody has a right to access to housing, so that if you employ somebody, you have to pay them the salary that can make them have a decent meal and decent housing."

In parts of the country such as northern Kenya, that have largely been ignored in development plans, an Equalization Fund will be used to provide basic services such as water, roads and health care.

The new constitution also deals with land ownership, a highly emotional issue.  The allocation of land based on ethnicity, gender or political allegiance was a trend that started in colonial days and continues up to the present.

Now, there will be a National Land Commission, with the power to re-possess illegally-occupied public land, an important step according to Moses Ikiara, executive director of the Kenya Institute for Public Policy Research and Analysis..

"If you do not do that, then the fight against impunity cannot go very, very far, so long as you make sure that there is no witch-hunting, investigation about the grabbing of public land is done properly without scoring political scores and other kinds of things," said Ikiara.

The National Land Commission is also charged with forming a national land policy, something Kenyans have been advocating for decades, and with ensuring that women are able to inherit land.

Many Kenyans are looking to the new constitution to curb excessive power in the president's office, government corruption, and non-performance by Members of Parliament.

"If any leader, somebody, has been accused of corruption, convicted of corruption and other cases, they cannot compete for public office," added Ikiara.  "Once this is implemented, and you bring in governance improvement, you bring in discipline in terms of how the public resources are used, [and] then we are likely to actually have efficiency."

Groups such as the National Council of NGOs plan to conduct civic education programs, says the NGO Council's Fred Olendo.

"You can have a right, but if you do not demand for your right, you cannot benefit from it," said Olendo.  "The Kenyan people must also rise up and know the provisions, what there is in the constitution. They should not just move on and vote, like the voting that was done. Not that very many people read the constitution."

The new constitution is scheduled to be promulgated August 27.

You May Like

Video In US, Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy

Holiday marks date Columbus discovered Americas, but some are offended by legacy because he enslaved many natives he encountered More

Video Through Sports, Austria Tries to Give Migrants Traction

With 85,000 people expected to claim asylum in Austria this year, its government has made integration through joint physical activities a key objective More

Video Kickboxing Champion Shares Sport With Young Migrants

Pouring into Europe by hundreds of thousands, some migrants, especially youngsters, are finding sports a way to integrate into new host countries More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemeni
Henry Ridgwell
October 12, 2015 4:03 PM
The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video Amnesty Accuses Saudi Coalition of ‘War Crimes’ in Yemen

The human rights group Amnesty International has accused the Saudi-led coalition of war crimes in airstrikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen. Henry Ridgwell reports the group says hundreds of civilians have been killed in strikes on residential areas.

Video No Resolution in Sight to US House Speaker Drama

Uncertainty grips the U.S. Congress, where no consensus replacement has emerged to succeed Republican House Speaker John Boehner after his surprise resignation announcement. Half of Congress is effectively leaderless weeks before America risks defaulting on its national debt and enduring another partial government shutdown.

Video New Art Exhibit Focuses on Hope

Out of struggle and despair often comes hope. That idea is behind a new art exhibit at the American Visionary Art Museum in Baltimore, Maryland. "The Big Hope Show" features 25 artists, some of whom overcame trauma and loss. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Columbus Day Still Generates Controversy as US Holiday

The second Monday of October is Columbus Day in the United States, honoring explorer Christopher Columbus and his discovery of the Americas. The achievement is a source of pride for many, but for some the holiday is marked by controversy. Adrianna Zhang has more.

Video Anger Simmers as Turks Begin to Bury Blast Victims

The Turkish army carried out new air strikes on Kurdistan Workers Party (PKK) targets on Sunday, a day after the banned group announced a unilateral cease fire. The air raids apparently are in retaliation for the Saturday bombing in Turkey's capital Ankara that killed at least 95 people and wounded more than 200 others. But as Zlatica Hoke reports, there are suspicions that Islamic State is involved.

Video Bombings a Sign of Turkey’s Deep Troubles

Turkey has begun a three-day period of mourning following Saturday’s bomb attacks in the capital, Ankara, that killed nearly 100 people. With contentious parliamentary elections three weeks away, the attacks highlight the challenges Turkey is facing as it struggles with ethnic friction, an ongoing migrant crisis, and growing tensions with Russia. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports.

Video Afghanistan’s Progress Aided by US Academic Center

Recent combat in Afghanistan has shifted world attention back to the central Asian nation’s continuing civil war and economic challenges. But, while there are many vexing problems facing Afghanistan’s government and people, a group of academics in Omaha, Nebraska has kept a strong faith in the nation’s future through programs to improve education. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from Omaha, Nebraska.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video In 'He Named Me Malala,' Guggenheim Finds Normal in Extraordinary

Davis Guggenheim’s documentary "He Named Me Malala" offers a probing look into the life of 18-year-old Malala Yousafsai, the Pakistani teenager who, in 2012, was shot in the head by the Taliban for standing up for her right to education in her hometown in Pakistan's Swat Valley. Guggenheim shows how, since then, Malala has become a symbol not as a victim of brutal violence, but as an advocate for girls’ education throughout the world. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.

Video Paintable Solar Cells May Someday Replace Silicon-Based Panels

Solar panels today are still factory-manufactured, with the use of some highly toxic substances such as cadmium chloride. But a researcher at St. Mary’s College, Maryland, says we are close to being able to create solar panels by painting them on a suitable surface, using nontoxic solutions. VOA’s George Putic reports.

VOA Blogs