AFRICA/KENYA - Discussion about presidential powers: government withdraws from National Constitutional Reform Conference

Wednesday, 17 March 2004

Nairobi (Fides Service)-“This is a difficult time in Kenya’s political life” a local Church source in Nairobi told Fides with regard to the stall in the debate on the reform of the Constitution since the government withdrew from the National Conference on the reform of the Constitution. The Conference drafted a Constitution which limits the powers of the President. “The proposal to reduce presidential powers was presented during the electoral campaign by the coalition in government at present. At the time former President Arap Moi was seen by most Kenyans as a despot and the majority were in favour of a reduction of presidential powers. However, reforms started by new President Mwai Kibaki (elected at the end of 2002), were widely welcomed and many wonder if the President’s powers should be limited now that they are used for the good of the nation” the sources told Fides.
“The project presented by the Conference foresees a President with representative functions, a prime minister head of the executive and a parliament with the power to revoke the Premier’s mandate. This is a radical change compared to the present Constitution which gives the President wide powers and many Kenyans are asking if the country is ready to accept a similar change” the source told Fides. “Alternative projects being examined include a model similar to the French constitution with a President and Prime Minister who share executive powers, but the special nature of Kenya must be taken in account. A division between the President and the Premier, who represent different areas and ethnic origins, could bring tribal and regional disputes back to the political debate. The would cause the political system to stall and also create social tension ”.
“Hence the need for prudence in the choice of a new constitutional model” the source told Fides. “Unfortunately the government coalition appears less united than it was some months ago and there is a climate of uncertainty with regard to the future of constitutional reforms”.
The Conference’s decision to present a constitutional project which limits presidential powers reverses the conclusions of the Consensus Building Committee, which proposed a Constitution with a President having strong powers. The Consensus Building Committee was charged with presenting a draft constitution to be approved by the National Conference. The Consensus Building Committee is presided by Bishop Philip Sulumeti, Bishop of Kakamega, who, Fides sources say, “appreciated by all for his balance and impartiality ”. (L.M.) (Agenzia Fides 17/3/2004, righe 37 parole 445)