Mary Walker: Significance of a new constitution

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Mary Walker

Editor’s note: Clark resident Mary Walker volunteers at the Tasaru Girls Rescue Centre in Narok, Kenya. The center was built in 2002 and provides a safehouse for Maasai girls who have escaped or been rescued from female genital mutilation and forced childhood marriage. Walker’s updates from Kenya appear periodically in the Steamboat Today.

I was sitting in a traffic jam in downtown Nairobi on Thursday. We moved a couple of hundred yards in the span of one hour. What fun.

But while you are stuck in these jams, men walk among the cars selling the coolest stuff — jumper cables, maps of Kenya, socket sets, sunglasses, newspapers, the proverbial Elvis (though here it’s more commonly President Barack Obama or Bob Marley) sateen towel or whatever the heck those things are. And then, along comes this guy with an adjustable ski pole with a solar powered flashlight forward facing on the handle. Now how handy is that? No more struggling on a full moon cross-country ski expedition on Rabbit Ears Pass to see the crud out in front of you. Just click on the flashlight and presto. But how in the world did a hawker in Nairobi find something like that?

Farther down the jam, there was a policeman furiously trying to direct traffic — hilarious when no one is moving anywhere anytime soon. But he had good reason. I happened to look over on the sidewalk and there was Kofi Annan walking along with a crowd of assistants and I’m sure plenty of plainclothes security. It was one of those strange moments when you’re not sure that you’re seeing what you’re seeing. He’s a very dapper older gentleman.

Annan is in Nairobi this week meeting with the president and prime minister (the leaders of the two wings of the coalition government) of Kenya. He has to convince the two men to get their two parties to stop haggling and pass the draft of a new constitution. Adopting a new constitution in Kenya is crucial not only here but throughout Africa. If Kenya, a relatively stabile, “democratic” country, isn’t able to bridge ethnic and tribal conflicts, then there is no hope for the many countries of Africa facing democratic elections in the next couple of years.

Everybody understands the symbolic and real significance of a new constitution here, so people such as Annan, Secretary of State Hilary Clinton and many other international diplomatic players have traveled back and forth from here a lot in the past and coming weeks.

England has announced, and the U.S. probably will as well, that they will revive their support of the “free” primary education program in Kenya by giving aid directly to schools, or to non-governmental organizations to distribute directly to schools, but not to the government. This was after the Minister of Education got caught stealing millions of shillings from this program. Giving aid money to governments (with the idea that they will distribute it) is a bad idea. Giving aid money to organizations on the ground, or directly to the schools, hospitals, orphanages, IDP camps, rescue centers, etc., that need the aid is a good idea.

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