Kenyan President’s Bid to Rewrite Nation’s Laws Rebuffed

By Lisa Vives, Global Information Network

NEW YORK (IDN) — While political leaders around the world jockey for comebacks, to extend their terms in office or merely to ignore a no-confidence vote, Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta was scheming to make sweeping changes to the constitution which, critics say, would have expanded his powers and create a ‘super presidency’.

But the nation’s highest court dashed his efforts, saying the president acted unlawfully when spearheading changes known as the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI).

They said it should have been led by citizens—not a sitting head of state.

Another element the Supreme Court deemed unconstitutional was the plan to create an extra 70 MPs seats in parliament—which critics had viewed as a self-serving attempt to reward loyal politicians.

The defeat comes ahead of crucial presidential elections in August where Raila Odinga, a Kenyatta ally, and William Ruto will compete.

While this was a court victory for Mr Ruto, “the real winners are ordinary Kenyans who fought from the lower courts to the Supreme Court to defend the constitution from being amended by elites without public participation,” writes Emmanuel Igunza of the BBC Nairobi.

Mr. Kenyatta claimed his initiative would make politics more inclusive and help end repeated cycles of election violence.

Mr. Ruto, by contrast, saw the future as a contest between “hustlers” and “dynasties” in a “hustler nation.”

Hustlers, explained Igunza, refer especially to young people who struggle to make ends meet in an economy that no longer works for them.

Dynasties, on the other hand, are wealthy families seen to have dominated politics—and the economy—since independence from the UK in the 1960s.

All the candidates and outgoing President Kenyatta are in the dynasty category.

According to Forbes magazine, Kenyatta is the nation’s richest person and the 26th wealthiest in Africa in 2011 with assets of half a billion dollars. Odinga, popularly known as the father of modern democracy and Prime Minister or Baba, has a net worth of US$250 million while Ruto has assets of US$26 million including hotels, homes and 5 choppers.

Ruto claims to be an outsider in solidarity with Kenya’s working class despite his current role in government, his decades as a parliamentarian and cabinet minister, and his substantial fortune.

He speaks of how he went to school barefoot, got his first pair of shoes at the age of 15, and once sold chickens by a roadside.

All this makes living in Kenya like an alternate reality, says Kenyan broadcast journalist Larry Madowo. In the space of one week, a rule-of-law government has defied nearly a dozen court orders in an alarming descent toward authoritarianism, he says.

Kenyatta has called the chief justice and his judges “crooks” while David Murathe, the vice chair of the president’s party, openly advocated for a dictatorship on national TV. ‘What this country needs now is a benevolent dictator,’ Murathe told KTN News.

“People have been too soft, so things have gone rogue. You find places like Rwanda are very stable, Uganda is very stable,” Murathe said, citing two East African nations with notoriously limited space for dissent.

Madowo warns: “What was once just despotism-lite will turn into a full-blown dictatorship if this government continues on the downward spiral that the progressive 2010 constitution was supposed to guard against.” [IDN-InDepthNews – 09 April 2022]

Image credit: Kenya Law

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