The Constitution of Kenya is the supreme law of the Republic of Kenya. There have been three significant versions of the constitution, with the most recent redraft being enabled in 2010. The 2010 edition replaced the 1963 independence constitution. The constitution was presented to the Attorney General of Kenya on 7 April 2010, officially published on 6 May 2010, and was subjected to a referendum on 4 August 2010. The new Constitution was approved by 67% of Kenyan voters. The constitution was promulgated on 27 August 2010.
Constitutional reforms involving wholly new texts since gaining independence: in 1969 and in 2010. In 1969, the 1963 independence constitution was replaced with a new text that entrenched amendments already made to the system of government that the independence constitution had contemplated.
These changes included: changing the structure of the state from a federal, or Majimbo system, to a unitary system; creating a unicameral instead of bicameral legislature; changing from a parliamentary to a semi-presidential system with a powerful presidency; and reducing the protections of the bill of rights. Further amendments to the 1969 constitution were later effected, including, in 1982, the institution of a de jure single party government.
The demand for a new constitution to replace the 1969 text with a more democratic system began in the early 1990s, with the end of the Cold War and democratic changes taking place elsewhere in Africa. The single party system was ended in 1991, and the first presidential election took place in 1992. Calls for a comprehensive review of the 1969 Constitution intensified in the late 1990s and early 2000s, helped by the victory of the opposition National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) party in the 2002 general elections. Official and civil society consultation processes led to the adoption of what became known as the "Bomas draft" constitution (after the location of the conference that adopted it).
However, substantial amendments were nonetheless made to this draft prior to a referendum in 2005, resulting in a split in the then ruling coalition. The Liberal Democratic Party faction of the government, led by Raila Odinga, and supported by KANU led a successful 'No' vote against the amended Bomas Draft (called the Wako draft after the alleged mastermind of the changes). The review of the Constitution stalled and negotiations over the adoption of a new text seemed deadlocked. A deadlock only finally broken by the intervention of the African Union through a mediation team headed by Kofi Annan, following the outbreak of serious post-election violence in early 2008.
The Constitution of Kenya was the final document resulting from the revision of the Harmonized draft constitution of [Kenya] written by the Committee of Experts initially released to the public on 17 November 2009 so that the public could debate the document and then parliament could decide whether to subject it to a referendum in June 2010. The public was given 30 days to scrutinise the draft and forward proposals and amendments to their respective members of parliament, after which a revised draft was presented to the Parliamentary Committee on 8 January 2010. The Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) revised the draft and returned the draft to the Committee of Experts who published a Proposed Constitution on 23 February 2010 that was presented to Parliament for final amendments if necessary.
After failing to incorporate over 150 amendments to the proposed constitution, parliament unanimously approved the proposed constitution on 1 April 2010. The proposed constitution was presented to the Attorney General of Kenya on 7 April 2010, officially published on 6 May 2010, and was subjected to a referendum on 4 August 2010. The new Constitution was approved by 67% of Kenyan voters.
The key changes proposed by the new constitution released are in the following areas:
The executive at the top most levels will be constituted of a president, deputy president and the Cabinet.
Key functions of the president
The key functions of the President of Kenya are as follows:
The Legislative branch is bicameral and will constitute of the following An upper house – the Senate
A lower house – the National Assembly
County Assemblies and Executive
Main article: Judiciary of Kenya
There will be three superior courts:
An independent Judicial Service Commission has been set up to handle the appointment of judges. They will recommend a list of persons to be appointed as judges by the president (this article will be enforced after the transitional period). The commission will consist of the following:
Main article: Attorney General of Kenya
Devolution to the county governments will only be autonomous in implementation of distinct functions as listed in the Fourth Schedule (Part 2). This is in contrast with the Federal System in which Sovereignty is Constitutionally divided between the Federal government and the States. The Kenyan Devolution system still maintains a Unitary Political Concept as a result of distribution of functions between the two levels of government under the Fourth schedule and also as result of Article 192 which gives the president the power to suspend a county government under certain conditions.
A conflict of laws between the two levels of government is dealt with under Article 191 where National legislation will in some cases override County legislation. The relationship between the National Government and the Counties can be seen as that of a Principal and a limited autonomy Agent as opposed to an Agent and Agent relation in the Federal System.
More checks and balances have been introduced as requirements for accountability of both levels of government. The Parliament( Senate and National Assembly) has much discretion on the budgetary allocations to the County Governments. Every Five years the Senate receives recommendations from the Commission of Revenue Allocation (Article 217) and a resolution is passed on the criteria for Revenue allocation.
The National Government is constitutionally barred from intruding wilfully with the county government role and function under the Fourth Schedule. Exceptions may require parliamentary approval (Article 191 and 192). The National Government has a role to play in the County level by performing all the other functions that are not assigned to the County Government as listed on the Fourth Schedule (Part 1).
The new constitution makes important reforms to the previous framework on citizenship, in particular by ending gender discrimination in relation to the right of a woman to pass citizenship to her children or spouse; by ending the prohibition on dual citizenship; and by restricting the grounds on which citizenship may be taken away. The text has been criticised, however, for not providing sufficient protections against statelessness for children or adults.
After the draft of the constitution was released the type of government which would be implemented with the constitution was a debate amongst the various government coalitions. The two major political parties ,the Party of National Unity and the Orange Democratic Movement disagreed on many points. the greatest discrepancy in opinion was over the nature of the executive branch of the government.
The economic interest represented by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), openly opposed the new style of government. Eventually the contentious issue of the position of Prime Minister was removed. The remaining contentious issues primarily concern abortion, Kadhi courts and land reform.
Mainstream Christian leaders in Kenya object to the constitution
A three Judge Bench of the High Court has since, in a landmark ruling of a case filed six years ago, declared the inclusion of the Kadhi court illegal and against the principles of non-discrimination, separation of religion and state and constitutionalism.
A section of the Muslim leadership vowed to retaliate the ruling by seeking their own judicial declaration that the teaching of Christian religious Education in public school curriculum is illegal. The education curriculum includes religious education syllabus for both Christianity and Islam.
Following the contentious 2017 presidential election (initially ruled illegal by the High Court, which forced President-elect Kenyatta into a re-run), the two leading contenders -- rivals Uhuru Kenyatta (who won election) and Raila Odinga -- proposed a "Building Bridges Initiative" (BBI), which consisted of a number of proposed amendments to Kenya's constitution.
Promoted by Kenyatta and Odinga as a way to resolve factional tensions in the nation -- improving inclusion and ending Kenya's winner-take-all elections (often followed by deadly violence) -- the amendments sought to:
Critics alleged the effort was unnecessary, and was a selfish attempt to reward political dynasties, and weaken Deputy President Willian Ruto (Odinga's rival for the next presidency) -- which would produce an over-sized government that debt-laden Kenya could not afford.
Kenyatta created a BBI constitutional committee to present the BBI as a popular initiative, allegedly started by ordinary citizens, as allowed by the Kenyan constitution. A BBI task force gathered five million signatures in support of the proposal.
The BBI was reportedly a matter of great political importance to both Kenyatta (who was due to leave office shortly thereafter) and Odinga (who was expected to run for the presidency), and reportedly bribes of up to $1,000 (£700) were given to some members of Parliament to secure support for the BBI. The issue dominated Kenyan politics from 2019 to 2021
The BBI was passed by Kenya's National Assembly and Senate, and was awaiting President Kenyatta's approval when it was challenged in the Kenyan High Court.
In May, 2021, the Kenyan High Court blocked the BBI plan, declaring it irregular, illegal and unconstitutional.
The court ruled that the Kenyatta was not eligible to undertake such an amendment process because he was not simply an ordinary citizen -- the only people authorized by the constitution to undertake such an effort.
The court further chastised President Kenyatta, saying that his BBI constitutional committee was illegal, and the five million signatures it gathered were not proof that it was a true citizen-led initiative, saying:
The court added that the president had failed to pass the leadership and integrity test -- warning that he could be sued, personally, for his actions. The court's ruling established grounds for impeachment of the president -- though the parliament, which passed the bill, was reported unlikely to challenge Kenyatta.
Generally the whole world praised the approach that the Kenyans took to constitutional reform, seeing it as a viable way to keep corruption in check. United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton said that "I am pleased that they have taken this step, which represents a major milestone." Other United States diplomats also commented on the unity and meaningful intent which Kenyans were presenting in approaching the reform.
Non-profits concerned with civil society and other reforms also praised the approach. For example, the Africa director for the International Foundation for Electoral Systems said that "The fact that they are bringing in stakeholders to lend their voice and make recommendations will strengthen civil society because they will keep a close eye on the process and, if it is passed, will ensure that it is respected and properly implemented."
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister Lawrence Cannon stated: "On behalf of the Government of Canada, I wish to congratulate Kenya on the adoption of its new constitution. This is a significant achievement and an important moment in Kenya's history. We welcome the leadership shown by President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Amolo Odinga within the Grand Coalition Government in bringing Kenyans together to tackle their future and make progress through dialogue, and in implementing the reforms set out in the country's Kenya's 2007–2008 election violence and should reaffirm its complete cooperation and commitment to the ICC.".
Researchers at the UK-based Overseas Development Institute have praised the 2010 Constitution as a positive step forwards in terms of securing greater equity for women and children in Kenya, highlighting "A new narrative for social justice" and "Institutional reforms to strengthen accountability". However, they stress that a constitution alone will not generate the desired changes; what matters is how the constitutional commitments are translated into policy and practice.
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