Shifting gears on the new constitution: Presentation to Amkeni and partners workshop to develop a practical guide to civic engagement, June, Naivasha

Deepening the culture of constitutionalism among Kenyans requires an acceptance of the reality in which we live. 47% of our republic go hungry, make homes in our streets, cannot access schools or dispensaries when they need them. 22% of the country now live in towns that have no industries to provide work for those that need them. Next year, a further 4% will join them in those towns. Of those that remain in the rural countryside, 80% live and work on two hectares of land. At the centre of this crisis are women and girls. To cap it all, 39% of Kenyan women regularly experience violence. Within these conditions, what is possible for civic education for citizen’s action?

The late popular educator Paulo Friere once said, “The fundamental objective is to to work alongside people not to win them over to our side.” Further, “those who commit themselves to people must constantly re-examine themselves”. Friere’s words are instructive to civic educators and organisers as we reflect on how to harvest from the recently adopted Kenyan constitution.

Firstly, we need to declare an intention to move beyond information to transformation. Transformation requires a shift in the way we think, speak and act. Simply raising awareness will not be enough. We all know the traffic rules, but do we obey them? Secondly, we need to start with the everyday matters that are important to the majority of our society. Not only the noble ideas (human rights, good governance etc) but the daily challenges they face, safety, food, housing, health among others. We could make it fun and entertaining. Thirdly, we could be intentionally bold, push through the limitations of the current debates on the International Criminal Court and seize the impending election opportunity. We could harness social and digital media.

We could intentionally focus public imagination on the way out of the current food and fuel crisis. Chapter 4 (Bill of Rights) and the Articles on non-discrimination and national values would be the best place to start. Setting peoples standards to measure the implementation of the constitution at county and national levels would ensure that the “progressive realisation of rights” view of some judges and public officers is not used to deny basic rights and freedoms to another generation of Kenyans.

If a place of worship without the faithful is only a building, then a republic without active citizens is only a geographical area no different from the national parks. We need to cause the republic and for this, active citizens are indispensable. Time to shift gears, friends.

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