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Kenya: Constitutional Reform Bills

(Sept. 8, 2008) Kenyan Constitutional Affairs Minister Martha Karua presented two bills on constitutional reform to the Kenyan Parliament on August 20, 2008. The Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Bill and the Constitution of Kenya Review Bill implement the process brokered in the National Accord and Reconciliation Act of February 28, 2008. That Act helped end the violence resulting from the disputed December 2007 elections by mandating the formation of a coalition government and promising the realization of constitutional reform within a year. According to the Kenyan daily THE STANDARD (cited to Aug. 22, 2008), the constitutional reform process in Kenya has reportedly been underway for 17 years, culminating with the 2005 defeat by public referendum of a government-sponsored draft constitution. (Kenyan Constitutional Reform Bills Presented, OSC REPORT, Aug. 26, 2008, Open Source Center No. FEA20080826760151.)

The amendment bill provides a legal framework for amending the Constitution, while the review bill outlines the “purposes, organs, and mechanisms of constitutional review.” (Id.) The review bill calls for the establishment of a seven-member Committee of Experts – to include three international experts – tasked with distinguishing contentious from non-contentious issues found in draft versions of the Constitution; drawing up a new, consolidated draft text that highlights those issues (with public input); and submitting its recommendations to the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review, which will seek to build consensus and draft the new document. The completed draft will be made publicly available for 30 days of debate and will be voted on within 60 days of publication, according to news sources. “Issues agreed upon by coalition partners will be put forth in one batch, while issues on which the two sides do not agree will be presented to the voters separately for the voters to decide.” (Id., citing to BBC, June 22, 2008, & the DAILY NATION (Kenya), Aug. 20, 2008). Although both President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga have indicated their support for the proposed reforms as key to the country's political stability, critics contend that “the process is too cumbersome, delayed, and may not include adequate public input.” (Id.)