By Sophie Ngugi (Kenya) – When the news started indicating that it will be pomp and colour at the promulgation of our New constitution, I didn’t realise just how much! I was set to watch the proceedings live from my house and the coverage in all the local TV stations was not disappointing. The venue of the great event, Uhuru Park has great historical significance. Uhuru is a Kiswahili means ‘independence’ and it has significance to the Kenya’s independence since the first flag was hoisted at the Uhuru gardens not very far from this park and hence the name has great significance. The Uhuru Park evokes memories of liberation; it is the park that the first African woman, Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai fought for a long while against the former president Moi’s regime who wanted to elect a skyscraper. It is at Uhuru Park, that the transition in 2002 was done when the current president took over power in what was seen as Kenya’s second liberation. It is in this park that on that day, 27th August 2010, by 0800hrs Kenyans were already full to capacity, waiting eagerly for the great day.
As I watched the pomp and colour that was Uhuru Park, my mind went back to the journey that we had taken.
August 4, 2010 had been the D-day when went to the ballot. I remembered the memories that were not a distant past of the day after the referendum results and realized one might not need to have held a new born baby to know the joy of a mother on safely delivering a baby. I felt that joy on the 5th day of August 2010, as I was sitting on the same coach following news closely despite a doctor’s advice to take rest, but this was not the time to miss the happenings in Kenya. I was wishing I can scream and shout aloud, WE HAVE A NEW CONSTITUTION, but flu had put me down and I could only shout in my heart. I could not believe that it was finally here, the joy can not be described in words. I had been so passionate about the proposed constitution, that for me this was just a climax and my ill health didn’t deter my joy.
The constitution making process in Kenya has a long history. The old constitution of Kenya was made at Lancaster house upon the Kenyan independence in 1963, and now was another moment to get a new homemade constitution. The first referendum was marred by a lot of politicking with the proposed constitution getting edited a long way to the extent that Kenyans no longer recognized their efforts in bringing their views into the constitution, and hence in 2005 the proposed constitution was rejected.
The constitutional moment was reignited in 2008 following the post elections violence in Kenya, the worst violence to ever be experienced in Kenya that left many Kenyans killed, injured, displaced and the belief in the national processes seriously challenged. The national accord was signed that allowed for power sharing and creation of the prime minister and deputy prime ministers’ position. One of the most critical aspects of the national accord was the popular ‘Agenda 4’. The long standing issues identified under Agenda Item 4 included: a) Undertaking constitutional, legal and institutional reforms; b) Tackling poverty and inequality as well as combating regional development imbalances; c) Tackling unemployment especially among the youth; d) Consolidating national cohesion and unity; e) Undertaking land reforms; f) Addressing transparency, accountability and impunity.
Less than three years later we were presented with another opportunity to make Kenya a better place. The new constitution had so many gains for women that I had made the pre-referendum activities a personal duty.
Finally the day was here!
The visitors who graced the ceremony included several presidents from different countries, former presidents, ambassadors were among other guests. The mood in the crowd was ecstatic, patriotic songs were played by the military band and I could not help but shed tears of joy; the day is finally here. The controversial arrival of the indicted by the international criminal court though a shock didn’t spoil my mood, it was our party and party we would.
The arrival of the first lady, Lucy Kibaki was followed by the arrival of the president shortly before 1000hrs and the ceremony got under way. The prayers were conducted to include some of the diverse beliefs in Kenya like Islam, Christianity and traditional religions. Shortly after 1000hrs the process of promulgation started after s brief speech from the president. The crowd watched, cheered, clapped and simply celebrated as we watched the process begin. None of us watching had ever witnessed such a ceremony in Kenya. The independence constitution had the seal and signature of the queen. This was therefore a momentous occasion to see the promulgation of the document we had given views on, discussed, bargained and voted for, what a day for Kenya! The four colours of the national flag; green, red, white and black were well represented in the dressing and flags that are witnessed at Uhuru Park.
The promulgation started by having the Attorney General give copies of the constitution. The president gave a declaration of the New Constitution and then went ahead to sign the document. The seal was affixed on the new constitution and the president then held it up for the crowds to see. There were loud cheers as the fanfare was played with President Kibaki waving the Constitution. You should have seen the smile on the man’s face, and for the first time I saw a full smile on the president’s face!
AND NOW, KENYA IS UNDER A NEW CONSTITUTION!
The three verses of the national anthem were sung in Kiswahili. This was a really rare occasion since in national functions, the national anthem tune is normally played by the band and when sang in different occasions its normally the only the first verse; here we were the three verses. The words of the national anthem summarises the prayer for Kenya today.
“O God of all creation
Bless this our land and nation
Justice be our shield and defender
May we dwell in unity
Peace and liberty
Plenty be found within our borders.
Let one and all arise
With hearts both strong and true
Service be our earnest endeavour
And our homeland of Kenya
Heritage of splendour
Firm may we stand to defend.
Let all with one accord
In common bond united
Build this our nation together
And the glory of Kenya
The fruit of our labour
Fill every heart with thanksgiving.”
The cheering in the crowd was at its loudest and the cannon blasted as the flag was hoisted simultaneously! The flag that was hoisted is 22 by 14 ft and had risen to a height of 30 metres where it will remain as a permanent feature.
IT’S A NEW KENYA
I shouted and cried, feeling so lucky to be part of this history.
The chief justice was the first person to swear allegiance to the New Constitution. President Kibaki, Prime Minister Raila and vice president Kalonzo also took afresh the oath of office and allegiance to the new law. The members of parliament and cabinet among other state officers took the oaths later on in the day. We ratified the new constitution of Kenya and here we were rejoicing in the new possibilities it created. There was entertainment and displays by different groups of people. Display of armoured Personnel Carriers, battle tanks and Humvees roll by. There is little chance they will ever be used in actual war, but every nation appreciates the role the army plays. It was the first time the Kenyan public was seeing this war machinery. Amazing stuff!! Helicopters trailing banners bearing the words, ‘GOD BLESS KENYA’. Trailers bearing workers simulating the construction of houses are also part of the display here. They were constructing a new house symbolizing the making of the new Kenya; musicians, it was the time for the Kenyan dance.
The occasion was concluded by speeches from the president, vice president and prime minister.
The president reiterated some of the values in the New Constitution that identified need to accommodate diversity and respect universal principles of human rights, gender, equity and human rights
For the second time in one ceremony Kenyans sang all the three verses of the national anthem to conclude the occasion. Later the presidents, prime minister and the first lady led in a significance event of releasing doves which signify peace and balloons in the colours of the national flag as an indication of new dawn.
A new Kenya, New Kenya, New Dawn.
Every time I remember this occasion and the events around this, I feel emotional and I know we are headed for a great future.
God bless Kenya.
Sophie Ngugi is the Acting Executive Director,
Young Women’s Leadership Institute.