Role of Kenyan CSOs in Reform Struggle

In the run up to the 1992 general elections, the Civil Society Organizations (CSO), opposition figures under the Forum for Restoration of Democracy (FORD), religious leaders, university students, the Kenyan diaspora in partnership with the development partners successfully pushed the then ruling Kenya African National Union (KANU) to repeal section 2A[1] of the defunct constitution clearing way for multi-partism. KANU won the subsequent elections due to fragmentation of the opposition and claims of rigging from the opposition and CSOs.

After the 1992 polls, the CSOs and partners realised that there was need for a total overhaul of the constitution as KANU still used the provincial administration to intimidate and arrest opposition leaders and cancel opposition rallies. This prompted the CSOs again to come up with a movement to push for constitutional reforms that ahead of the 19997 general elections so as to level the electoral playing ground. All the anti-Moi forces coalesced around the National Constitution Executive Committee (NCEC) and the National Constitution Assembly (NCA) and they successfully pushed for what became to be known “No reforms, No elections” campaign.

The pressure by NCEC/NCA prompted KANU to move back to the drawing board and hatched a strategy to diffuse the NCEC/NCA pressure. This, they did by proposing formation of the Inter Party Parliamentary Group (IPPG). However several luminaries of NCEC did not welcome IPPG as it locked out non parliamentary groups like CSOs, clergy and university students and due to fears that the IPPG was open to KANU manipulation. Nonetheless, IPPG which brought Members of Parliament (MPs) from the opposition parties and the then ruling party KANU created the minimum reforms which were aimed at levelling the playing ground before the 1997 general elections.

Some of the agreement arrived during the IPPG was to repeal the then infamous Chief’s Act, joint appointment of the electoral commission through nomination by parliamentary parties and formation of a government that included all political parties based on their parliamentary strength among others. But after the 1997 polls, KANU reneged on the IPPG agreement and went ahead and formed a government composed of only KANU MPs.

This led the CSOs, progressive opposition MPs, religious leaders and university students to again come together under the banner of the Ufungamano Initiative (UI) to push for comprehensive constitutional reforms before the 2002 polls. Several strategies were employed to push the KANU regime to accept constitutional reforms. Among other things, the UI collected views from Kenyans on the type of the constitution they desired apart from conducting civic education drives.

During the same period, the James Orengo led Muungano wa Mageuzi (Coalition for Change) played a key role by organizing popular rallies and protests of Kenyans demanding for a total overhaul of the Kenyan Constitution helping to push the KANU regime to accept that constitutional change. Mageuzi also played a key role in linking the civil society struggles with the masses and university students effectively countering the KANU propaganda.

While the UI was pushing for writing the constitution through a popular initiative, KANU was pushing for reforms through the parliamentary initiative arguing that MPs being the people’s representatives had the prerogative to write the constitution for Kenyans. Then president Moi even publicly said that Wanjiku was not well educated enough to understand constitutional issues. Tensions that followed led to the two groups, the UI and the parliament led process under the Parliamentary Select Committee (PSC) to propose a merger of the two groups to save the process.

The UI then convened the Ufungamano Steering Committee (USC) then led by Rev. Mutava Musyimi at the Ufungamano House so that members could vote for or against the merger of the UI and the PSC led process. The delegates endorsed the merger during a chaotic process that followed.

However just like prior to the 1997 polls, when most non parliamentary groups refused IPPG, a breakaway faction of UI composed of NCEC, Muungano wa Mageuzi, Citizens Coalition for Constitutional Change (4Cs), Release Political Prisoners (RPP) and Safina were opposed to the merger and threatened to have a parallel process. They argued that it was the prerogative of the people to write a constitution they desired. Most parliamentary parties endorsed the merger including the then opposition leader and former president Mwai Kibaki[2].

CKRC that was led by Prof Yash Pal Ghai convened the Bomas conference but before they could begin working, the KANU government dissolved the Bomas claiming that there was no time to write the new constitution before the election. But after the 2002 election which was won by the National Rainbow Coalition (NARC) which was itself a coalition of opposition parties, renegade KANU MPs, CSOs, Religious leaders and university students, the Bomas conference was reconvened but rivalries in the NARC between main partners NAK and LDP aborted the process leading to division within the CKRC and the Bomas conference.

The NAK wing using their parliamentary majority pushed what was known as the Kilifi Draft[3] to the referendum but it was defeated by a collective campaign of the CSOs and the opposition parties. Groups like Katiba Watch, Bunge la Mwananchi (BLM) and Hema la Katiba played a key role in educating Kenyans on the dangers of voting the Kilifi draft leading to its defeat during the 2005 referendum.

After the Post-Election Violence (PEV) of 2007/2008, the CSOs again played an important role in monitoring the process of healing and took part in the constitution making process leading to promulgation of the Constitution of Kenya 2010. The CSOs conducted massive civic education to counter propaganda that was being peddled by KANU remnants who opposed the constitution during the 2010 referendum on flimsy grounds.

One thing that is common in this whole process is the critical role that was played by the CSOs in opening up of democratic space in Kenya by standing with the people and opposing state manipulation and subsequently heralding the new constitution in Kenya. In the period preceding the 2002 polls, the CSOs were united and could march the government by organizing popular rallies and meetings which ensured that the KANU regime bulged and listened to the CSOs.

The Students’ movement also formed a key component of the reform struggle as they were already mobilized and had access to information. That they were the cream of the society the students felt obligated to think freely and this made them natural allies with sections of the opposition and the CSO. The university dons were not left behind including the clergy like Reverent Timothy Njoya.

During the struggle for reforms, there was a common purpose of all the players involved; to force the ruling elite to accept constitutional reforms. Such synergy is needed today if CSOs have to counter the forces of impunity that have regrouped to rubbish the good work that was done by reformers.

However today, Kenyan CSOs which like their counterparts worldwide are a think-tank and a pool of knowledge have failed to link with the poor masses, the university students, the religious leaders, the progressive opposition leaders in and out of parliament and the diaspora as their predecessors did hence have become a pale shadow of their former self thereby playing a reactionary role always being steps behind the government propaganda machine which is more organized and well-oiled not forgetting that they have poached some brains from the CSOs.

CSOs need to link with the masses and merge with university students and progressive opposition leaders both in and outside parliament, the diaspora and the religious leaders to form a popular front that can safeguard the gains that have been made by promulgation of Constitution of Kenyan 2010.

[1] Section 2A of the constitution abolished multi-partism making Kenya a single party state.

[2] Faction Threaten Parallel Review. Available from:<>. [7 May 2015].

[3] The draft that was taken to the 2005 referendum was agreed upon at Kilifi at the Kenyan Coast


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