Monday, August 09, 2010



The road to Wajir has remained the same — rough and bumpy —in Kenya’s two-decade search for a new constitution. But as the country prepares for the national referendum mid next week, Wajir residents — like the rest in the northern region — are gearing up for change.

Here, in one of the country’s poorest villages, a cosmos of poverty bites, and at the tip of a makeshift Somali hut, a page of the proposed constitution fills an opening where rays of the sun would otherwise penetrate and disturb the comfort of Ms Suleka Samow.

In Elmi-tuwer village, life is so harsh that a new constitution is not a priority. But Ms Samow’s faith in wanting a different Kenya is one thing she shares with many. Soft-spoken Ms Samow 54, says: “I hear people saying that our country’s laws will be changed” and continues in Somali: “I actually do not understand what is going on, but what I want is a change from this kind of living.”  The illiterate mother of four wants the proposed draft to pass. “I don’t know what the document contains, but I can judge from my own common sense that Kenyans are tired of old things and they need something new. That is that, gentleman,” she tells the Nation.

Her neighbour, Ms Habsa Ali, says: “We need the laws of the country changed. It’s absolutely important.” As the Greens and Reds traversed the country, referendum campaigns have been few in the north, where the overwhelming majority support the proposed set of laws — according to recent opinion polls. They did the same on the vote day.

North Eastern is Kenya’s third largest province. It is 126,902 square miles and covers 22.5 per cent of the country. But little has changed since independence. The entire region’s MPs supported the proposed set of laws. Even as President Kibaki created four more districts as part of pre-referendum pledges, residents say the offer has nothing to do with their stance on which side to vote. So they voted Yes.  “The President comes begging ahead of the referendum,” said Mustafa Elmi of Mandera. “We all know that all the districts will be scrapped, so why should he create them? We are already decided as voters to pass the laws.”

The reason many give for the support is that expressed by Ms Samow is: “Change, change and change.”  The province is the crucible of all human rights violations. More than five massacres have been committed against the people. “If we look at our past, if we look in front and if we stare beside our shoulders, our suffering is here to stay,” notes 40-year-old Ahmed Hassan. “We just support ‘Yes’ in case some change comes with it.”

From Bulla Mpya in Mandera’s border tip, along Wajir’s Qorahey plains to Garissa, the biggest issue is for justice for the survivors and victims of various massacres. “I think that we could be in a crisis if we reject it,” Mr Hussein Hulbale, a Garissa resident says.  “Many people in Kenya don’t feel they have the modern laws for contemporary times.”