We May Not Need a Referendum, But…

| Owen Yaa Baya

Political temperatures in the country are on the rise with the self-righteous Jubilee government fighting to maintain the status quo as CORD tries to re-engineer itself into something relevant. In all this, two things are certain. One, our voting patterns this election exposed how the deep the rot of tribalism is in this country; and two, that the way the current government is handling devolution is indeed an assault at the very constitution they say they are protecting.

A keen analyst will note without prejudice that the future of this country in the next twenty years is likely to be determined by two tribes who have now known that if they came together at every election they can always win the presidency. But that is not the problem. The issue is that these two tribes use the presidency as a prize to reward their communities and keep material wealth in the hands of a few Kenyans concentrated in neighboring regions. The heavily skewed government appointments clearly show this.

So is the constitution the problem or the politics wrong?  To answer that kind of question is not easy. It is apparent that the constitution of a country affects its politics and influences its voting pattern. No one imagined that the “dynamic duo” would openly and without apology play the tribal trump card so openly that it would become a crime to be shameful of tribalism. This fact has changed the politics of the country. A candidate’s popularity, ability and charisma may not be important in Kenyan politics anymore. What matters is how you play the tribal arithmetic to your advantage. If your tribal mobilization happens to have the numbers, then you carry the day as majority have their way however wrong they may be. Does this system impact negatively on democracy? Yes. Does this require a referendum to fix the problem? No. But how do we make the nation more important than the tribe without opening up the constitution to amendments? How do you strengthen the election faculty to ensure that at every election, whoever is elected is seen to be chosen by the whole of Kenya? The answer may be both constitutional and moral.

Flash back to 2007. President Mwai Kibaki wins a heavily disputed election and violence breaks out. A national accord is crafted and the coalition government is established. Kenyans treat Kibaki as their president without prejudice to how he was elected. This was because he did not mobilize his politics around two tribes but threw his net wide while crafting PNU with an express purpose to reflect the face of Kenya. Likewise, in crafting the CORD alliance, Raila Odinga was bent on ensuring the face of Kenya was reflected to ensure acceptability across the board.

What is at stake is not the constitution but the moral principles behind our politics. National values must be upheld and chapter 10 and 13 of the constitution must be reflected in our political mobilization and public service to stem political mischief and protect the national fabric.

The referendum to determine the extent of devolution and sharing of revenue between the two levels of government as proposed by the governors and supported by senate may not be necessary if the current regime is true to the call of devolution as enshrined not only  in the constitution but also in their manifesto. A government that swore to protect the constitution must respect the spirit which informed the writing of that constitution without necessarily being forced by the people to respect it.

The dynamic duo can avoid the agitation for a referendum by realizing that the self-righteousness with which they are handling the whole issue will not wash because it will turn to nasty politics. How they react to the call will determine whether this nation will be in politics or development mode the next four years. Good politics has always been built around ensuring that the rights of those who did not vote for you are protected as much and as equally to those who voted for you. This is a sure way to legitimize an election win even when those who were defeated have doubts whether you actually beat them squarely.


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