Constitution Writing & Conflict Resolution
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Kenya 1982

Leaders of Kenya’s ruling party drafted the Constitution of Kenya (Amendment) Act, No. 7 of 1982 in an effort to suppress political dissent within what had since 1969 been a de facto single party state. The act, which made alternate political parties unconstitutional, was a response to heightening dissent within the ruling party that had recently led two popular parliamentarians to seek registration of a socialist opposition party. The ruling party organized a “Political Information System” seminar in Nairobi and Mombasa for March 8-13, 1982. The seminar involved representatives of the single party states of Malawi, Zambia, Tanzania, and Uganda, who converged to question the efficacy of political parties in post-colonial Africa and advocate one-party democracy as a viable alternative. Two months later (in May 1982) the Kenyan opposition leaders who had proposed the formation of a second party were expelled from the ruling party, and their representatives were detained. On May 26, 1982, the governing council of the ruling party (composed of 12 members) instructed ruling party parliamentarians and the Attorney General to prepare a bill amending the constitution such that Kenya would officially become a one-party state. The resulting bill also proposed to create a new office of Chief Secretary to serve as head of the public service. Before the amendment was debated, the vice president introduced a procedural motion that reduced the publication period of the bill from 14 to 6 days. On June 9, 1982, after less than one hour of debate, the legislative assembly of 222 members voted 220 to 2 in favor of the amendment.

After the amendment was passed, political leaders embarked on a media campaign, touring the country to explain the implications of the new amendment, and to argue (against continued opposition) that multi-party politics was a foreign political ideal that should be rejected as inappropriate. The ruling party acted to suppress continued opposition (particularly among lecturers and students of the University of Nairobi) through intimidation, imprisonment, and the confiscation of passports. In August (1982) there was an abortive coup attempt in which a faction of the air force took over major buildings and communications in Nairobi. The single-party system remained in place until popular demand and external pressure for political pluralism forced another amendment in 1992.

 

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