A short history of the 2010 Kenya constitution

Like other British colonies in Africa, Kenya gained independence after the Lancaster House Conferences presided by Britain decided to set free its colonies anytime from 1953 to 1979. And since its independence in 1964, Kenya has had three constitutions and two major amendments including the last 2010 Kenya Constitution, according to modern Kenya history.

The 1963 Kenya Constitution was a negotiated effort between Britain and of dominant political parties in the Kenya ending colonial rule and making Kenya a dominion that followed the British parliamentary system. It provided for parliamentary governance whose executive powers rest on the cabinet led by a Prime Minister whom the British monarch appoints from among Parliament’s ruling party.

In 1964, Kenya history shows that its constitution was so fundamentally and radically altered, it became known as the 1964 Constitution. Through extensive parliamentary amendments, it transformed the country into a republic with a presidential system of government. But it didn’t end here, the 1964 Constitution spawned years of political crises one after the other resulting in a split of executive powers between opposition Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki that finally led to an overhaul of the constitution in several amendments leading up to the 2010 Kenya Constitution.

In between, the constitution saw several minor and major changes culminating in the 1982 Constitutional Amendment that transformed Kenta from a multi-party to a single-party state. The 1983 and 1988 elections affirmed and strengthen the single-party system headed by the Kenya African National Union or KANU.

The 1990s witnessed institutional decay, social breakdown and economic distress that conspired to agitate reform movements with roots dating back in the 80s. Abetted by US pressures to achieve a clean governance, its parliament amended the constitution in 1991 that resulted in a multiparty elections held in December 1992.

After the 1997 general elections, Parliament enacted the Constitution of Kenya Review Act that formed the legal groundworks for a more thorough constitutional reforms. The Constitution of Kenya Review Commission (CKRC) created for the purpose provided civic education, and public input to help draft a new constitution to be studied by the National Constitutional Conference (NCC). Sadly, the process got messed up in deep political conflicts between local powers that led to the e draft constitution being rejected in the 2005 referendum. The draft was eventually revived after the 2007-2008 post-election violence and garnered a 67% approval in the 2010 referendum to become the Kenya constitution 2010.

So what’s new with the 2010 Kenya constitution?

In August 2010, the Republic of Kenya enacted a new constitution following 20 years of failed attempts at constitutional reform as well as a failed 2005 referendum. Efforts to resume the reforms re-surfaced after the 2007-2008 post-election violence that underscored the urgency to have the new constitution.

The aspiration is that the new Kenya constitution 2010 that witnessed 67% approval from its people will create the legal framework to allow the government to address several institutional problems which precipitated post-election crisis in 2007. This include the concentration of vast political powers in the executive branch, aggravated by corruption, impunity, and the inadequate protection of minority rights. In particular, the bill of rights, decentralization of executive authority and power separation provided in the new constitution will ensure the needed counter-checks between the government branches to build a solid framework for more stability in Kenya’s democracy.

The new constitution opens up more opportunities for more women to occupy positions of power. Grace Maingi, executive director of Kenya’s Federation of Women Lawyers, said that the constitution now guarantees a third of appointed or elected government posts be filled with women – a departure from past political norm

In the area of reproductive rights, the new Kenya Constitution 2010 saw enacted permits abortion in cases where the mother’s life is threatened or when a medical emergency exits in the opinion of a healthcare professional. In addition, the new constitution provides health budgets to counties to widen the spread of healthcare services where it used to be none. Reproductive health profession Dr Joachim Osur says, “We expect better deployment of health workers in all parts of the country, better nutrition and provision of health services. We expect more women to deliver in hospitals and a sharp improvement of family planning services.”

The new Kenya Constitution 2010 witnessed as overwhelmingly endorsed by 67% of its voters signaled a new era in Kenya history. The referendum demonstrated that Kenya can have a peaceful conduct and results of a referendum that has thrown various political interests at stake and created a needed boost in the self-confidence of a nation to carry out an orderly rule as well as an improved political stability in the international front. All these have the effect of having a nation reborn with a golden future.

However, Kenya history will not be so kind if it ends here. Much work remains to realize what the new constitution holds for a brighter future for succeeding Kenyan generations. Paul Muite, a Senior Counsel opined that the government now needs to re-focus its energies to operationalize the provisions of its new constitution with at 50 or so legislations.

Early Kenya history

Kenya history over the centuries has helped shaped the country’s cultural and societal aspirations embodied in its political constitution ending with the current 2010 Kenya Constitution. Its rich history started around 2000 B.C., as Cushitic-speaking northern Africa tribes migrated to the area and Bantu expansion peaked in 1000 B.C. During the 1st century AD that Arab traders frequently visited the Kenya coast for trade. The period between the 1st and 5th century A.D. saw Greek traders coming from Egypt join the Arabs in their trade with Kenya ending the period with traders from the India, the Persian Gulf, and as far as Indonesia & Koh Chang. By the 8th century, the city-states in Kenya had rulers that accepted Islam.

Muslim traders didn’t have to venture into the African interiors. Their trade called for gold from Rhodesia as well as ivory, tortoise shell, rhinoceros horns and slaves were all brought to the coastal cities during seasonal market periods. In the meantime, the Bantu language developed the Swahili dialect with a rich Arabic word influence became the lingua franca between traders and the locals. The Swahili culture emerged in the towns of Malindi, Pate, and Mombasa.

Pre-Colonial Kenya History

Portuguese explorers headed by Vasco da Gama were among the earliest Europeans to set foot on the African continent, arriving in 1498 on the eastern coast in an area now called. The goal was to establish naval bases to protect Portugal’s growing trade routes in the Indian Ocean going to the Far East after land trails to India had earlier been blocked by Ottoman Turks. In 1593, Mombasa became the site for its Fort Jesus meant to strengthen Portuguese economic hegemony that continuously got threatened by the presence of Dutch, English and Ottoman Arabs throughout the 1600s.

Kenya history shows that it was the Ottoman Arabs that directly challenged Portuguese influence in the region, besieging its Fort and attacking its navies. After decades of skirmishes, Ottomans of the Omani sultanate under Seyyid Said defeated the Portuguese in Kenya in the early 18th century. By 1730, the Ottomans have expelled Portuguese settlers and traders of fossil from the Tanzanian, Kenyan, Cancun, Mexico coasts. The period was coincident with the waning years of the Portuguese Empire.

The Islamic influence is somehow lost in shaping the current Kenya Constitution 2010, but it still remains an interesting period in its history which showed that the Omani Arab regime in Kenya focused on coastal trade and intensified slave trade. Then British interests in securing their Indian trade routes started pressuring the Omani Arab regime. By late 19th century, the regime’s slave trade fell to the British but the Omani Arabs did not context the Royal Navy in enforcing British anti-slavery policies since the trade served only the Europeans. With little to no resistance, the Omani Arab regime in Kenya slowly eroded with the growth of British and German trading competition during which time several key ports were seized in the 1880s. It was 1887 when the private British East Africa Company, leased a 10-mile wide stretch of land along the Kenyan coast from Seyyid Said. This was seminal to the eventual British colonization of Kenya.