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Letter from Africa: Why Kenyans are no longer cheering their constitution



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image captionMany Kenyans were jubilant when the constitution was adopted a decade ago

In our series of letters from African journalists, Waihiga Mwaura looks at what has changed in Kenya 10 years after it adopted a new constitution intended to reform how the country was governed and reduce ethnic tensions.

There are many lessons from George Orwell’s famous book Animal Farm – the most poignant being that the animals who rebelled against their human farmer hoping to create an equal society ended up being disappointed by what came next.

With the bells of independence chiming across the continent around 10 years after that classic was written, there was great hope that newly achieved African self-rule would lead to the equitable distribution of resources.

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image captionKenya’s presidents until August 2010 – from right to left Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel arap Moi and Mwai Kibaki – had been all-powerful

Several decades on that expectation was replaced by disillusion as local oppressors often took the place of the expelled colonial “masters”.

This is why Kenyans were so jubilant on 27 August 2010 when a new constitution was adopted.

In the words of former Chief Justice Willy Mutunga, the new laws marked the culmination of “almost five decades of struggles that sought to fundamentally transform the backward economic, social, political, and cultural developments in the country”.

Imperial-like powers

What changes did the 2010 constitution usher in?

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image captionA huge ceremony attended by regional presidents was put on to ratify the new constitution

Well, previously the president operated with imperial-like powers controlling the three arms of government.

He appointed and sacked judges.

He determined the calendar of parliament and could have as many ministers as he liked.

Kenyans were clear in terms of what they wanted.

They were keen to see clear a separation of powers between the legislature, the executive and the judiciary.

They wanted their rights more definitively enshrined in the constitution, they wanted gender equality and they wanted the devolution of resources – away from central government to the 47 counties that were created.

‘Too progressive’

So a decade on, it has been a time of reflection, looking back at the gains made – like more respect for human rights – but also at the missed opportunities.

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And – according to an Infotrak poll commissioned by several civil society organisations, including Amnesty International Kenya – the views are mixed.

Only 23% of Kenyans are satisfied with how it has been implemented and 77% are either dissatisfied or disinterested.

Kenya’s Chief Justice David Maraga recently said: “In my view the constitution of Kenya is one of the best constitutions in the world, if only we could implement it.”

Senior lawyer Ahmednasir Abdullahi believes the problem is that the constitution is just too progressive for the political elite, saying they have only rolled out what is convenient to them.

One of the most striking failures can be seen in the sea of male faces in parliament – the requirement that not more than two-thirds of MPs be of the same gender has clearly not been implemented.

image copyrightAFP
image captionMany Kenyans feel the constitution has done little to end corruption

The judiciary says its funding is not in line with what was promised in the constitution.

And the executive and judiciary have certainly not seen eye to eye since the Supreme Court annulled the August 2017 election over irregularities.

When the Supreme Court was due to hear another case seeking to delay the rerun in October 2017, not enough judges turned up – one was unable to come as her bodyguard had been shot by gunmen earlier in the week – meaning the vote, boycotted by the opposition, went ahead as planned.

Judges also accuse the executive of regularly flouting court orders.

Poorer counties are still poor while a bill is languishing in parliament that would give them access to a $240m (£182m) fund for development projects.

image copyrightAFP
image captionElections in 2017 again saw clashes that polarised the nation

The much-vaunted land commission that was to review past abuses has had little impact as it has been dogged by leadership problems.

Corruption is still a major issue – with Kenyans currently focused on the alleged theft of millions of dollars meant for the purchase of medical supplies to combat the Covid-19 pandemic that has turned into a vicious political battle.

And there is a concern that the constitution did not satisfactorily ensure the independence of the police.

‘Building bridges’

So is there a way forward?

Some, including the leader of the opposition ODM party, Raila Odinga, who served as prime minister in the government of national unity that brought in the constitution after deadly post-poll violence, feel some of the laws need amending.

image copyrightAFP
image captionIn the August 2010 referendum, 67% voted in favour of the new constitution

He has joined forces with President Uhuru Kenyatta to champion change under an initiative dubbed “Building Bridges”.

The two rivals kissed and made up – metaphorically – two years ago to end tensions following another disputed, deadly and divisive election season.

They agreed to put together a team to find a way to end such instability looking at nine issues – including ethnic antagonism, corruption and devolution – thought to be among the greatest challenges since the country became independent in 1963.

And this taskforce is expected to release its final report soon.

Yet the Infotrak poll shows that 60% of Kenyans are not keen on another constitutional review, wanting instead the constitution they voted for in a referendum in 2010 to be respected.

They would prefer their politicians to rule in accordance with the laws they have, agreeing with Russian writer Leo Tolstoy who once said: “Writing laws is easy, but governing is difficult.”

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‘Almost 180-degree turnaround’: More Black Americans open to jabs | Coronavirus pandemic News




More Black people in the United States say they are open to receiving coronavirus vaccines, a new survey shows, an encouraging sign that one community leader described as “almost a 180-degree turnaround” from earlier in the pandemic.

According to the late March poll by the Associated Press news agency and NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, about 24 percent of Black people said they would probably or definitely not get vaccinated.

That is down from 41 percent in January, and is similar to the proportion of white people (26 percent) and Hispanic Americans (22 percent) who also say they do not plan to get jabs.

The findings come as US President Joe Biden’s administration works to speed up inoculations to try to outpace a recent rise in infections, after he promised that all adults would be eligible for a jab by April 19.

Public health experts had raised concerns about the need to ensure that Black and other communities of colour in the US, which have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic, had equitable access to vaccines.

Local leaders said vaccine hesitancy was fuelled in part by decades of institutional discrimination in healthcare and other public services.

Dr Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, told AP that attitudes among Black people have taken “almost a 180-degree turnaround” as outreach campaigns have worked to combat misinformation.

Benjamin said Black physicians, faith leaders and other organisers have helped get targeted messaging to the community “in a way that wasn’t preachy”.

“They didn’t tell people, ‘You need to get vaccinated because it’s your duty.’ They basically said, ‘Listen, you need to get vaccinated to protect yourself and your family,’” he said.

Mattie Pringle, a 57-year-old Black woman from South Carolina who previously had doubts about taking the vaccine, said she changed her mind after a member of her church urged her to reconsider. She got her first jab last week.

“I had to pray about it, and I felt better after that,” Pringle told AP.

Medical and public health experts have continued to urge people in the US to get vaccinated in an effort to slow the spread of the disease, which has killed more than 561,000 people across the country – the highest death rate in the world.

The US, which has reported over 31 million cases to date, has authorised three vaccines for emergency use: the Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson jabs.

So far, more than 178.8 million vaccine doses have been administered countrywide, while 68.2 million people are considered fully vaccinated, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

Recent surveys have shown that more Americans in general say they intend to get vaccinated than previously did.

The Pew Research Center reported in early March that 19 percent of US adults said they had already received at least one dose, while another 50 percent said they probably or definitely would get vaccinated.

“Taken together, 69 percent of the public intends to get a vaccine – or already has – up significantly from 60 percent who said they planned to get vaccinated in November,” it said.

Other recent surveys show that attitudes towards vaccines are split along political lines. A survey at Monmouth University released last month found that 36 percent of Republicans said they would avoid the vaccine compared with just six percent of Democrats.

That prompted top US infectious disease expert, Dr Anthony Fauci, to call on former President Donald Trump to encourage his supporters to get vaccinated.

Meanwhile, experts are urging Americans to take whichever vaccine is available to protect themselves and avoid delays.

“When people come in, I always advise them to get the vaccine that’s available because you never know what vaccine is going to be available the next time,” Reham Awad, a pharmacy intern in the Chicago area, told Al Jazeera this week.

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Erdogan urges end to Ukraine tension, offers Turkey’s support | Conflict News




Turkish president says tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over Donbass conflict have to be resolved through dialogue.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has called for the “worrying” developments in eastern Ukraine’s Donbass region to come to an end after meeting his Ukrainian counterpart in Istanbul, adding Turkey was ready to provide any necessary support.

Erdogan and Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskyy held talks in Istanbul on Saturday amid tensions between Kyiv and Moscow over the long-running conflict in Donbass.

Speaking at a news conference alongside Zelenskyy, Erdogan said he hoped the conflict would be resolved peacefully, through dialogue based on diplomatic customs, in line with international laws and Ukraine’s territorial integrity.

“Our main goal is that the Black Sea continues to be a sea of peace, tranquility and cooperation,” Erdogan said.

Zelenskyy said the views of Kyiv and Ankara coincided regarding the threats in the region and as well as responses to those threats.

Erdogan stressed that Turkey’s cooperation with Ukraine in the defence industry, which was the main item on the meeting’s agenda, was not a move against any third countries.

Al Jazeera’s Sinem Koseoglu, reporting from Istanbul, said Ukraine was purchasing Turkey’s military drones.

She also said that “new generation drones will be equipped with the Ukrainian engines”.

Regional tensions

Zelenskyy’s visit to Turkey comes amid renewed tensions in eastern Ukraine, where Ukrainian forces and Russia-backed separatists have been fighting since 2014.

In a visit to troops there this week, Zelenskyy said breaches of a July truce were increasing.

Separatist authorities have also accused Ukrainian forces of violating the ceasefire.

Russia has reinforced its troops along the border and warned Ukraine against trying to retake control of the separatist-controlled territory.

Kyiv rejects that it is preparing for an offensive. The Russian military buildup has raised concerns in the United States and Europe.

The Turkish and Russian presidents spoke on the phone on Friday. Among the issues discussed was Ukraine.

The Kremlin said President Vladimir Putin expressed concern that Ukraine “recently resumed dangerous provocations on the contact line”.

Turkey is a NATO member. But Erdogan and Putin have forged a close personal relationship, sealing energy and trade deals.

They have also negotiated for opposing sides in conflicts, including Syria, Libya and Nagorno-Karabakh.

Erdogan’s office also said he would discuss with Zelenskyy the living conditions of Crimean Tatars, who have ethnic links to Turks. Moscow annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014.

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Libya kicks off delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive | Coronavirus pandemic News




Prime Minister Abdul Hamid Dbeibah receives shot on live television, urges Libyans to register online for their own vaccinations.

Libya has launched its delayed COVID-19 vaccination drive, with Abdul Hamid Dbeibah, prime minister of the country’s new unity government, getting his shot on live television.

Officially, Libya has registered a total of about 167,000 coronavirus cases, including more than 2,800 deaths, out of a population of seven million. Its healthcare system has struggled to cope during the pandemic, strained by years of political turmoil and violence.

After the vaccination of Dbeibah on Saturday at the headquarters of Libya’s Centre for Disease Control on the outskirts of the capital, Tripoli, Health Minister Ali al-Zenati was next to receive a jab.

Libya has so far received 200,000 doses of Russia’s Sputnik V vaccine, alongside more than 57,600 AstraZeneca shots, the latter delivered through the COVAX programme for lower and middle-income countries.

Dbeibah urged fellow citizens to register online for their own vaccinations. He has earmarked the vaccination campaign as a policy priority, alleging that the delivery of the shots was hindered by outgoing authorities.

“The arrival of vaccines has been delayed by political, not financial, considerations,” he said.

Dbeibah’s interim Government of National Unity was sworn in last month [Mahmud Turkia/AFP]

Dbeibah was selected earlier this year through a United Nations-sponsored Libyan dialogue to lead the country to national elections in December.

His government replaces two warring administrations based in Tripoli and the country’s east, the latter loyal to renegade military commander Khalifa Hafar. The rival authorities have given their backing to the new administration, adding to tentative hopes that Libya can exit a decade of crisis.

‘Better late than never’

The World Health Organization said on Thursday that two new variants of the coronavirus are present in Libya, which has lately been detecting about 1,000 new daily infections.

No lockdown measures are currently in place, and while masks are obligatory in public places, the measure is widely flouted.

“I feel sorry that the vaccine arrived late in Libya after thousands were infected. But better late than never,” shop owner Ali al-Hadi told Reuters news agency, adding that his wife had been sick with COVID-19 and recovered.

Many Libyans fear the vaccination campaign could be marred by political infighting or favouritism after years of unrest.

“We hope the health ministry will steer away from political conflicts so that services can reach patients,” said housewife Khawla Muhammad, 33.

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