Friday, 25 November 2011

Solidarity: Moving Ahead to Meaningful Change

I attended a meeting and press conference a week ago about police reforms.  Above is the picture from the press conference, which shows me joining in the slogan at the end of the meeting (didn't know exactly what I was saying), and, oddly, with a light fixture over my head, slightly reminiscent of a halo.  I will not read into that in any great detail, mind you.

The issue of reform is a very hot topic here.  The 2007 post-election violence, in a lot of ways, was a major catalyst in the reconsideration of how public institutions were set up in Kenya.  The first step was constitutional reform, although this had been at the top of the list sometime, with a 'first draft' new constitution failing to be enacted in 2005.  With the coming of the 2010 Constitution of Kenya, however, there is now a push for broad, sweeping changes in the institutional landscape of Kenya.

Those are very weighty and impressive words, but I think they also come with a bit of ambiguity and uncertainty.  What kind of reform are we talking about?  And how can such a huge amount of reforms take place, especially with an election looming in 2012?

A few of the major institutions that have been targeted for reform include:  the judiciary, the police, the electoral system, and county/local governments.

A very positive note has been the steps taken towards Judicial reform.  Unfortunately, the Judiciary has been regarded skeptically in the past, plagued with issues of corruption, inefficiency and incompetence.  With the new Constitution, major changes are occurring, first with the establishment of a new Supreme Court, and a new law for vetting all judges and magistrates.  In fact, I'll be travelling to Eldoret to participate in a live radio talk show about the vetting procedures, as well as a public forum, in an effort to engage the public and educate them on what to expect with the whole process.  I am nervous.  I will try and get a podcast, or some sort of recording of the radio show and see if I can upload it.

Police reforms, and reforms in the security sector in general, are a vital part of ensuring a peaceful transition through the elections in 2012.  Often, the 2007 PEV is attributed, in part, to police activity.  That is, the police force was seen as a major instigator to some of the violence that occurred.  This was tied to issues of corruption and political influence over the police.  While this is true, I think an important thing to realize as well was that the police were massively unprepared, underfunded, and under-equipped to deal with the conflict and problems associated with the elections.  While the conversations about police reform often focus on removing the 'bad eggs' from the police force, and vetting other members to ensure the integrity of the institution, I think it is also just as important to make sure the police force has the proper training and resources to ensure that members of the police force are capable of handling the types of problems that arise during elections, that they have proper education on human rights, and that they have appropriate salaries to make sure that taking bribes is less of a temptation.  The police force is often seen as being linked to violence from the State.  But it also has the capacity to keep peace, order and security.  How these police reforms are carried out will provide a good measure of how effective Kenya's institutional reforms are going to be.  I am excited to be a part of developing a toolkit, with other CSO partners, for the police vetting board to use in order to ensure that the process is carried out properly.

Electoral reforms is also a massive topic.  Poorly regulated elections processes, especially with regards to monitoring political parties and the strategies that they used to elicit votes have been a flashpoint for violence.  This is a focus of the 2011 Annual Jurists' Conference, which happened last week and which I will finish blogging about soon.  Stay posted!

Finally, Kenya is making a move towards a 'devolved government' scheme.  I haven't fully had a chance to work out the details of the scheme yet, but I am getting the sense that it will be somewhat similar to the idea of division of powers between the Federal and Provincial Governments in Canada.  It's not a Federal system, however, so I'll have to get back to you on that matter.

Anyways, I recognize that that was a fairly dry post, about legal happenings going on here.  However, I hope you understand the gravity of the situation here.  Kenya is in a transitional phase.  And the government, despite some of the bad press it is getting, and the relatively irrational decisions (for example, the incursion into Somalia for reasons not quite known) it can make, has been diligently trying to implement this new Constitution.  Nobody wants a repeat of the 2007 tragedy.  And the attitude is very positive that Kenya can set a great precedent for the entire continent  in terms of successful institutional reform.  Legally, very exciting times.  Hope you think so too!

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