My fellow Kenyans,
We are gathered here today for an exercise in citizenship. We do so in fidelity with the tenets of our participatory democracy by presenting the proposed changes to our Constitution, as we seek your support through a referendum.
This is a proud moment for our democratic system of government, which holds that we are a nation of equal citizens striving for the betterment of our families, communities and our country.
Democracy is dynamic because people are dynamic. We change as individuals; our families grow; and we encounter challenges some that are unexpected and devastating. We embrace opportunities, many of which are transformative and uplifting. The reality of life demands constant change if we are to solve our challenges and capitalize on our opportunities.
The reason our Founding Fathers and Mothers bequeathed us with a democratic system, was to offer us this dynamic ability to change with the time; as equal citizens of this beautiful land.
The nation is a product of continuous evolution; it is a product made, constantly and purposively. The tree of the nation is watered with a constant stream of ideas. Without this, the nation will wither and die. The only thing that is static and does not change is that which is DEAD.
History is a graveyard of empires and nations that died because, they responded to the changing dynamics affecting them by digging in their heels and resisting change.
My fellow Kenyans,
As I said when I was delivering my State of the Nation Address, a nation is work in progress. That is why the idea of “nation building” was on the lips of our Founding fathers and the leaders of a young Kenya. One of the greatest acts of nation building in our history was the promulgation of the 2010 Constitution.
This sacred document contains the democratic dream of Kenya that demanded great sacrifices from many Kenyans, known and unknown.
As President, and your fellow citizen, I want to give thanks to the gallant Kenyans who argued, advocated for, and suffered so that our Constitution would come alive. For decades, our heroes woke up wishing for us a better Kenya, a strengthening of our democracy and governance.
In 2010, when my predecessor lifted the new Constitution high, all of us cheered entering a new phase in the life of this great Republic.
We knew then, as we know now, that no document is perfect and that time does not stand still. That is the reason the framers of the Constitution gave us the ability to change it, but in a way that protects its core democratic character.
The need for change of our constitution has been with us for some time. It has been evident in the never-ending threat of post-election violence; in the growing feelings that its design lacks inclusivity; and that it promotes unfair and skewed representation, and unfair distribution of national resources.
We need to strengthen the 2010 constitution if we are to continue our decades-long journey in seeking to advance the well-being of all Kenyans.
- Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and I came to this realisation when we held talks that led to the Handshake in 2018.
Many Kenyans have forgotten what was happening at that time. We were on the verge of a divisiveness that would have deeply undermined our continued unity and peace.
There were even those reckless few who threatened the destruction of the nation; and actually got a hearing from sections of the public that felt only drastic action could ease their frustrations. So many countries, some that we share borders with, have trodden a similar path to destruction and ruin.
I am telling you this honestly as your President who consumes first-hand information, only available to the Head of State. If there had been no Handshake, this country would have been brought to its knees by very dangerous forces- the reckless aggressiveness of some, and the triumphant, chest thumping and stone-walling by others.
The Handshake stabilised the country and have afforded us the opportunity to identify the practical reforms that would strengthen our unity, inclusivity, equity and good governance.
The Building Bridges Initiative was the vehicle for a national conversation that lasted over 2 years. BBI provided an opportunity for Kenyans to say what was on their minds; and to provide ideas that could be effected to solve Kenya’s most intractable problems.
Both the BBI Taskforce and the BBI Steering Committee listened to thousands of Kenyans from all walks-of life in every one of our 47 counties: individual Kenyans, women groups, youth groups, PWDs, religious leaders, pastoralists, trade unions, professional associations, county assemblies, members of parliament, and various experts.
First, Kenyans expressed their views which were collated and presented as BBI 1 report that was released in November 2019. Then Kenyans gave more views under BBI 2, which was a validation exercise meant to ascertain that the views expressed in BBI were actually the views Kenyans had shared. As you know, more views emerged at this stage; and most of those views were publicly stated in regional rallies.
The validation report was launched on October 26, attracting many other views and calls for such views to be considered. I am happy to say these views have been considered and incorporated, as the referendum bill released today clearly indicates.
I am, therefore, confident that this process has been widely consultative and has captured the best of our ideas and ideals. And this is not the end of the process as Kenyans will continue to express themselves and eventually make a choice on the fate of this referendum bill.
Let me now highlight some of the points and gains in the referendum bill, particularly those raised by various interest groups. On the gender parity and participation question, this bill ensures that women will actively be involved in all levels of representation. Women leaders will now comprise 50% of all Senators. This means that they will be in charge of determining how we spend 35% of the resources available.
Additionally, there is a new mechanism for ensuring greater and meaningful participation of women in the National Assembly. We are doing this while retaining the affirmative orientation in appointive positions, which as you know has been instrumental in placing women in high positions in government.
The drafters of the referendum bill also listened to the plight of PWDs and youths and have ensured that they be adequately represented in parliament.
Kenyans consistently expressed their view that there was urgent need to strengthen devolution. This referendum bill considers this point and proposes an increase of money available to counties. It also creates a Ward Development Fund that will be a game changer by taking government money directly to the grassroots.
And not only that – the bill proposes a strengthened Senate that is able to oversight the counties more robustly. It also requires county assemblies and the Senate to ensure greater accountability of the increased funds going to the counties.
To ensure that every Kenyan enjoys the democracy that the 2010 constitution so ably promised, the bill cures the problem of under-representation in some areas of this country, and introduces a better approach for the sharing resources more equitably and fairly.
Although the principle of public participation is enshrined in our constitution, participation has faced numerous challenges in the past. The BBI proposals will ensure greater public participation at all levels - ward, constituency, county and national government.
In the spirit of public participation embodied in the entire BBI process, the next step is the collection of signatures from Kenyans. This is in line with the tenets of democracy, whereby every single citizen is entitled to having their say.
The process of staging a national referendum is the last exercise in validation of the issues articulated in the BBI report, and the last stage in asking for the stamp of approval from Kenyans on the report’s recommendations. This marks a mass validation of the proposed amendments as captured by the BBI steering committee.
As we embark on the signature collection exercise, we recognise that the exercise of collecting signatures is a continuation of democratic deliberation provided for in the Constitution.
We are once again taking these proposals to you, Kenyans, requesting you to confirm and endorse your own proposals.
To ensure informed decision-making by Kenyans, the bill will be available through newspapers, while the BBI report is available through electronic and print formats, and include abridged and summarised versions, to ensure everybody reads and endorses the report.
Finally, let me say that we are embarked on this exercise at the height of the Covid 19 pandemic. We are forging ahead not because we are careless but because we consider this process as crucial to the positive future of our Republic. BBI is a bridge to peace and prosperity that every Kenyan today, and in the generations to come, needs desperately.
Let me make it clear during the process of collecting the signatures all public health guidelines must be adhered by all Kenyans, irrespective of their social status.
Kenyans are asking for these changes so that you can enjoy them, but you cannot enjoy them if you are dead from an avoidable and preventable disease. Therefore, walk into the town hall with confidence because it is your civic duty to be a responsible citizen, but take all necessary precautions.
It is my hope that Kenyans will overwhelmingly support the amendment bill and secure their futures and our future as a united country, too.
Asanteni Sana na Mungu Abariki Kenya.