Kenya: Education for the ballot box

On November 21, 2005 an unprecedented and historic referendum was held in Kenya on a new draft constitution. To ensure that Kenyans would go to the ballot box as well-informed citizens, a group of lawyers at a human rights group called the Human Rights Office at Christ the King Parish, published, jointly with the Jesuit Hakimani Centre in Nairobi, a civic education manual. ‘Understanding Your Constitution, a Toolkit for Civic Education’ is an 80-page booklet that provides a panoramic overview of the different stages of constitutional history in Kenya, highlighting various key changes since the country’s political independence in 1963. Most importantly, it makes a very thorough comparison of the Draft Constitution of Kenya that was accepted by the National Conference in March 2004, and the Draft Constitution of Kenya presented for a referendum to Kenyans by the Attorney General on August 2005. On November 21, the new proposed Constitution was overwhelmingly rejected. “A referendum is a tricky business, especially in a multi-cultural society” says Ludwig Van Heucke SJ of Hakimani Centre. “The exercise divided the nation and left ordinary citizens confused. Subsequently, President Kibaki tried to cool tempers by sacking his entire cabinet and naming a new one. He continues to rule conveniently under the old Constitution, reassuring everyone that his government is still committed to giving Kenyans a much awaited new Constitution”. 

In such a situation, civic education is needed more than ever. A task to which, in Fr Heucke?s words, the Jesuit Hakimani Centre remains devoted. Fr Ludwig Van Heucke SJ, Jesuit Hakimani Centre, ludwig@wananchi.com