Constitution of Kenya at ten: A unionist perspective

As a country, we’ve just marked ten years since the promulgation of the current constitution on 27th August 2010. A constitution that has been hailed to be one of the best not just in the continent but in the world. And even though in the previous years we the people have been stopping to reflect on the hits and misses since its promulgation, this year has seen a deep, candid and honest examination of the 2010 constitution.

For us, in trade unions, this constitution has presented both great opportunities and at the same time monumental challenges.  

My mind is still clear and in synch with the speech that I gave during the Labour day May 1st celebrations in 2017. It is then that I provoked Kenyans to start thinking about constitutional change. I was, without doubt, the first leader that came out public and called for constitutional change. In that speech, that I delivered at Uhuru park, I was fierce and categorical that Kenyans needed to amend the 2010 constitution to give way to peace, unity and development by way of expanding the executive arm of government.  

This, however, should not be misconstrued to mean that the 2010 constitution should be thrown in the bin. No. As I have mentioned earlier, this is a very progressive constitution. Many parts of this constitution are admirable. In fact, as COTU-K we supported the 2010 constitution having considered some of its unique opportunities.

For example, we highly believed, then, that it will bring about political stability in the country. Secondly, our delegates played a major role in the formulation of article 41. That because of the 2010 constitution, Kenyan workers were going to be entitled to fair remuneration, reasonable working conditions, to form or join and participate in the activities of a trade union and the right to go on strike among other rights.

Thirdly, provisions such as those chapter six on Leadership and Integrity were good for enhancing a leadership that respects our national values and principles. These are just but few of the incredibly admirable opportunities presented to us by the 2010 constitution.  

But now, ten years later, with the benefit of hindsight, I would like to buttress my position, as in my 2018 speech, that we need to amend our constitution to change aspects of it that threaten our very existence as a country.

I know there have been concerns about the role of unionists in politics. But, today, I would like to request those who question my role, as a trade unionist, in politics to read history…The history of this country is the history of trade unionists. I say so because it is unthinkable and incomplete to discuss the history of this country, especially the struggle for independence, without discussing the role played by trade unionists

One of the major observations, we in the trade unions have been able to make, is that ten years later elections in Kenya are still a cut-throat affair. The 2010 constitution did not fix the problem of leadership. As a result, during the last two electoral cycles Kenyans have lost loved ones; properties worthy billions have been destroyed; the economy shrinks; investors have shunned away from investing in the county; people have lost jobs, etc.

To avoid the negative peace that we have in the country a constitutional amendment is consequential. And because the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) has set out to redefine our politics and address those aspects of politics and our lives that have hampered our development, we in trade unions will not hesitate to support it.

I know there have been concerns on the role of unionist in politics. But, today, I would like to request those who question my role, as a trade unionist, in politics to read history.

The history of this country is the history of trade unionists. I say so because it is unthinkable and incomplete to discuss the history of this country, especially the struggle for independence, without discussing the role played by trade unionists such as Tom Mboya, Clement Lubembe, Fred Kubai, Makhan Singh, Ochola Mak’Anyengo, Dennis Akumu, Aggrey Minya among others.

One of the reason unionists are so passionate about politics is because it’s politics that determines everything. It’s politics that determines who gets what, when, and how. Therefore, the role of politics in development of the country and especially of the workers cannot be downplayed. It is politics that determines the development of workers.

It’s politics that determines if a country has political stability and therefore economic growth, meaning more jobs and better salaries. Everything boils down to politics. In fact, in some countries, trade unions form, or legally belong to and support, a given political party. A good example of this is the long standing Labour Party in the United Kingdom.

The only way workers would be heard in the coming dispensation is by being rightfully represented now. That’s why we have not allowed the voices that would otherwise have us reduced to spectators overpower our determination for representing the Kenyan worker in talks of a better Kenya. If the country is politically stable post the BBI, it only means more economic stability and therefore more jobs and better pay.

In conclusion, we, in the trade unions, support calls for the amendment of the constitution by expanding the executive and relooking at our governance structure with a view of accommodating everyone so that the violence experienced after every general election can finally be a thing of the past, because majority of those negatively affected by the violence are workers, women and children.  

Dr. Francis Atwoli, NOM (DZA), EBS, MBS

Secretary General, COTU-K