When Kenya’s Supreme Court pushed back against the president’s proposed constitutional amendments this month, it was hailed as a sign of institutional strength in East Africa’s economic powerhouse.
A bank with five judges ruled that the reform process was “unconstitutional, null and void”. The decision was welcomed by many who believed the biggest government overhaul in more than a decade was a veiled attempt by President Uhuru Kenyatta to consolidate political dynasties and effectively expel his deputy rival William Ruto.
“There are certain cliques within the political class who want to use the constitution to address very short-term political interests and their beauty [court] The verdict says it attacks this particular attempt, ”said Patrick Loch Otieno Lumumba, a law professor and Kenya’s former anti-corruption tsar.
But the victory, analysts fear, could be short-lived. Kenya’s recent electoral history has been characterized by ethnic violence, and the ruling leads to a battle between the judiciary and the ruling class ahead of next year’s election if Kenyatta is to resign.
Proponents of the overhaul say it would reduce the likelihood of ethnic violence in elections by sharing the spoils of victory more evenly. It would carve out 70 new constituencies and distribute more financial resources to regional governments. It would also create new leadership positions in government, increase the number of seats in parliament, and an official position for the runner-up in the presidential election. “The fact is, we’re a tribal society,” Kenyatta said last October when he started the Building Bridges Initiative. “That is what divides us.”
There are widespread fears that the 2022 elections could spark riots on the order of 2007 and 2017, when 1,200 and 100 were killed in post-election violence, respectively. Kenyatta and Ruto were both investigated by the International Criminal Court for their roles in electoral violence, although charges were dropped.
“Elections in Kenya have become a curse,” the BBI report said. “A political system that takes all winners into account has only exacerbated ethnic competition for the presidency, as people want their own president as the resources are tied to the presidency.”
However, critics say the reforms would actually give more power to the political elite. In his second term in office, Kenyatta is constitutionally excluded from running for the presidency next year. However, analysts say he could aspire to the prime ministry if such a position were restored under the proposed changes, reflecting Vladimir Putin’s ban as Russian prime minister.
The proposed changes, say critics, turn Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga against Ruto. This could help Odinga “achieve what he always wanted – to become President of the Republic of Kenya,” Lumumba said next year. Both Kenyatta and Odinga are sons of Kenyan independence leaders.
Ruto, who has quarreled with Kenyatta and, according to analysts, wants to succeed his boss next year, welcomed the court victory. In a tweet about the court ruling, he wrote: “There is God in Heaven who loves Kenya immeasurably. Democracy is anchored in the rule of law. ”
“The [legal] The triumph is huge, ”said Duncan Ojwang, Dean of Law at Africa Nazarene University in Nairobi, about the court ruling. “If anyone is to stand up against the executive and for the rule of law, it is judges who have tenure and are protected and are unlikely to be as temporary or temporary as politicians.”
But government supporters have said they will appeal the ruling. “We respect the court’s decision, but we disagree,” said Junet Mohamed, a senior MP who is part of the team that drives the BBI. “It’s not over yet.”
The Kenya Magistrates and Judges Association this week condemned the “daily attacks against individual judges” who ruled against the proposed changes, including some by “high-ranking and powerful officials”.
For Nanjala Nyabola, a Nairobi-based writer and political analyst, the court “did a really good job defending the constitution”. However, she is dubious about the bottom line: “The recent history of the executive, including the legislature, ignoring court decisions does not necessarily instill trust.”
Additional coverage from Donald Magomere in Nairobi