Catholic Information Service for Africa


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Difficult tasks await Kenyan MPs

By Karen Allen
BBC News, Nairobi

It had all the pageantry and trappings of a state ceremony.

Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki and ODM leader Raila Odinga arrive at parliament

The two leaders agreed the power-sharing deal last week

The national anthem, the guard of honour, the ceremonial dress – but this was a unique opening of parliament.

Kenya’s lawmakers are under the spotlight in a way never seen before.

Kenyans still stunned by post-election violence are vesting their trust in leaders in a country where in the recent past, they have been badly let down.

More than half of the members of parliament are newcomers and they will be expected to hit the ground running, to turn up to vote and pave the way for a historic coalition.

A coalition aimed at restoring unity to what the president described as “one Kenya”.

Stumbling blocks

It was a week to the day that a power-sharing deal had been agreed between President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga.

They shook hands in the presence of the world’s media, flanked by Kofi Annan and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Opening of Kenyan parliament 6/03/08
The new parliament began with two minutes of silence

That was just the start of a process. In the coming weeks lawmakers will be expected to enact legislation that will amend the constitution and allow a grand coalition to be formed.

They then have to try to “sell” the idea of power sharing to their constituents, among them people who are now homeless or who have lost loved ones in the violence.

There are still potential stumbling blocks ahead – in particular, how power will be shared and how cabinet posts and other senior positions will be allocated.

But for Thursday’s ceremony the tone was conciliatory and upbeat.

After a two minute silence – first for parliamentarians killed in post-election violence and then for “ordinary” Kenyans who lost their lives, President Kibaki rose to his feet.

In a 30-minute speech he stressed the need for last week’s peace accord to be quickly enacted into law, but warned that it would require “goodwill, unity, good faith and integrity” of Kenya’s lawmakers.

Awkward realities

This country is emerging from one of the darkest periods of its history and the coming weeks will be a real test of the commitment of all sides to a durable peace.

A member of the Kikuyu Mungiki gang threatens a man with a machete in Nairobi's Kibera slum, 10 January 2008

Some 1,500 people died in unrest after disputed poll results

Kenyans will be forced to confront some awkward realities with the establishment of a truth, justice and reconciliation commission to investigate past injustices and violence blamed on supporters on all sides of the political fence.

They will also be forced to compromise.

There are concerns that a grand coalition will rob Kenyans of a real opposition.

This has effectively been a deal between two political blocks – those supporting President Kibaki’s PNU and those backing Raila Odinga’s ODM.

Earlier in the day, diplomats insisted the onus would be on the media to help keep the government in check.

But what is clear is that this could be the start of a new pragmatism in Kenyan politics. A chance for a new breed of politician to shine, putting aside a past where winner takes all.

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by Dickson Jere

Photoflag.gifMoves to finally provide Zambia with its first post-independence constitution have stirred up a political hornet’s nest, with President Levy Mwanawasa’s accusations of treason failing to silence dissent.

While there is a general acceptance that a written constitution for the former British colony is long overdue, the normally mild-mannered Mwanawasa’s involvement has led to another deep rift after last year’s divisive elections.

“The constitution should be the basis of unity in a nation (but) … the constitution debate has been very divisive,” said Lee Habasonda, executive director of the Southern Africa Centre for Conflict Resulotions and Disputes.

“Both sides must exercise a bit of restraint and engage in constructive dialogue.”

In a bid to reach a national consensus on the constitution, 43 years after the former northern Rhodesia gained its independence, a special conference is expected to be held later this year with participants from across the political spectrum invited to attend.

But analysts say the project is being seriously hampered by the involvement of Mwanawasa, with some key players vowing to boycott the conference as it has been tailored to produce a document that favours the president and his camp.

“The composition of the conference is biased towards government and politicians. We shall not go there,” said Marian Munyinda, spokeswoman of the Oasis Forum, a coalition of civic groups.

Such suggestions have particularly annoyed Mwanawasa who introduced a bill that means any new constitution has to be approved by a broad-based conference instead of parliament where his party has a comfortable majority.

On learning earlier this month that his opponents were planning to stage demonstrations against the conference he remarked that “should I hear any more nonsense … they will be arrested and charged with treason.”

Michael Sata, the populist opposition leader who lost last year’s general election to Mwanawasa, has refused to be silenced and argues that Mwanawasa is not interested in having a truly open debate about the constitution.

“The whole process is a fraud because Mwanawasa wants to use it for political expediency,” said Sata.

“My party is not going to take part in the fraud.”

The main disagreement revolves around whether the constitution should specifically entrench rights on social issues such as housing and education rather than solely concentrating on basic legal and human rights.

Mwanawasa is strongly opposed to the idea of specifically according such rights in a country where poverty is endemic.

“If these rights are enshrined in the new constitution, no government is going survive. Presidents will be impeached for failure to provide employment, education and food because that will be breaching the constitution,” he said.

Emily Sikazwe, a popular women rights activist, pointed out that other countries such as South Africa enshrined social rights even if she acknowledged they may not be attained overnight.

“We don’t understand why Mwanawasa is opposed to these progressive provisions in the draft constitution,” she said.

A draft constitution was written in 2005 by a commission appointed by Mwanawasa, which recommended a reduction in presidential powers and laying out detailed human rights.

But Mwanawasa and his government reacted coolly to the proposals and have since pushed for the conference in what opponents see as a diversionary tactic.

Justice Minister George Kunda said the process would continue, regardless of any boycotts.

“We have listened to their concerns and we have taken them on board,” said Kunda.

Diplomats have been largely sympathetic towards Mwanawasa, despite some of his more controversial rhetoric.

“I think he means well. We have met him several times on this issue and he comes out convincing to the extent that he wanted to resign,” said one senior European diplomat.

Copyright © 2007 Agence France Presse. All rights reserved. The information contained in the AFP News report may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without the prior written authority of Agence France Presse.

Photo

It is rather shocking that the Justice Minister – George Kunda has been instructed by the President Levy P Mwanawasa, SC to present a new controversial bill to be enacted into law – The Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) bill. 

It is aimed at tightening the operations of civil society groups at a time when the same NGOs have been very vocal against the recommended constitutional adoption review and dismissed the roadmap proposed by the Zambia Centre for Inter-Party Dialogue (ZCID), as a “body of politicians” with self-interested motives. 

The bill was introduced last evening (Tuesday) amid accusations that the legislation is aimed at stifling criticism. The minister is quoted as saying … “I am a bearer of the message from the president (Levy Mwanawasa) that this bill be enacted into law”.  

“Government has sneaked in the bill in parliament without consulting the stakeholders. The motive behind this bill is very suspicious,” said Rueben Lifuka, president of Transparency International Zambia. 

This also follows media reports that some members of the opposition parties are not willing to put a stamp on government’s plan while the Catholic Information Service for Africa issued a similar demand from Nairobi seeking a people-driven constitution. 

According to the Nairobi report, government’s proposed modus operandi is faulty; firstly because it is politician-driven, secondly because it insists on parliamentary supremacy, and thirdly because it proposes that government should prepare Constitutional Bills for amendments of the Constitution. 

The minister contended that the bill wanted to enhance transparency and accountability among civil society groups and also seeks to provide guidelines for the establishment, registration and coordination of NGOs, including international organizations that have offices in Zambia.  

While we at the Zambian Chronicle find some excellent provisions in it such as its ability to enable the government to suspend civil society groups that fail to submit quarterly or annual returns or when they misapply funds they receive from donors, we find the timing rather suspicious.

If enacted, all international and local NGOs have to abide by the new rules and in some cases be deregistered if found to be non-compliant. The bill comes to the floor for full debate on Friday and is most likely going to pass … thanks a trillion. 

Brainwave R Mumba, Sr.

CEO & President – Zambian Chronicle

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