Referendum can’t be about selfish agenda of leaders

The conversation on the Kenyan Constitution after the fabled March 9 handshake has remained narrow and self-serving. Where it should be on the country and her people, it remains solidly on the leaders and even then, just a handful of them. The discourse has refused to move beyond what kinds of executive positions should be created for whom. This smacks of selfish appetite for power. Only a nation of sheeple would accept a referendum to authorise this.

In 1945, British radio journalist W R Anderson defined sheeple as a passive people whose leaders treat them as if they were a flock of dense-headed sheep. Sheeple will be shunted about and made to uncritically accept whatever decisions are thrust down at them. Accordingly, the selfishagenda about reconstructing the Executive of Kenya has taken it as a matter of course that the national sheeple will accept whatever they will be told to do at the much-hyped referendum.

The handshake gave the country the opportunity to look at what ails it. Would this chance appear to be getting squandered at the altar of selfish agenda? The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is presumably spearheading a national conversation on the Kenya we want. The initiative, however, remains the property of President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM party leader, Raila Odinga. Also starring from the sidelines is Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka.

The rest of the formations and leaderships in the country continue to peep in from outside. At the very best, they are expected to make presentations to the team spearheading the process. The structure, framework and objectives of the BBI remain vague.

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In spite of this, every so often, one panjandrum, or the other, materialises from a place close to the centre of the two powers, to float sinister balloons. It may be something like the Executive is going to be restructured.

They are going to create a prime minister’s office, complete with sundry deputies. You have also heard about possible abolition of presidential term limits. Even more dramatically, there is a proposal to bring together the six foremost political parties in the country to form one giant political entity – “so that everybody is included in government to buttress national unity.”

This is mischief. You can never include everybody in government. This kind of thinking is regressive. It was this mindset that placed Kenya on a chaotic constitutional path in the 1960s. A handful of people led by Tom Mboya, Oginga Odinga, Mwai Kibaki, Charles Njonjo and President Jomo Kenyatta decided that Kenya needed one giant political formation that “included everybody.” They went on to kill the political opposition and to pave the way for a one party dictatorship under Kanu. What we are hearing is not far from a return to a one-party state.

One of the products of the one-party state was a perennial imperial presidency. The late Habenga Okondo, in a publication on the defunct Constitution of Kenya, stated that if the first two presidents tended to lean towards authoritarianism, they really had no choice.

The Constitution invariably pushed them that way. A former vice president recently told the country that if President Uhuru wants us to change the Constitution so that he will walk in the footsteps of the first two presidents, he will support him. 

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Kenyans would do well to wake up to reject this referendumtalk, if these are the things going on in the BBI. A national referendum cannot be about creating a few positions to be shared among a few people at the top. Each time they talk about power sharing, the citizens must ask, “Power sharing among whom, for what?”

Whenever this question has been contemplated, it has been answered that this will “bring national unity.” Unity is as good as the purpose for which people unite. If the top political cream unites to enjoy the good life at the people’s expense, then their unity is a conspiracy against the people. 

But, they have also said, they want to unite so that “Kenyans will not fight or die again because of an election.” This is diversionary conflation of issues. Kenyans don’t fight because of inadequate positions in the Executive. They fight because of perceived theft of the election. The biggest threat to the electoral process remains the perception that the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) is not independent. Such people feel frustrated that the electoral body is helping someone “to steal their election.” Rather than focus on creating jobs for some people, the conversation should be on how to make the IEBC trustworthy. 

Conversations on the Constitution should be about the people and not the leaders. What do we – the people – want to be? How can the Constitution help us to be what we want to be?

Towards that goal, what is missing from the Constitution? Only when we have answered these questions, can we ask about the architecture of government. For the time being, we have placed the cart before the horse, and faith ahead of fact and reason. Kenyans must demonstrate that they are not sheeple. They must reject selfish agenda, no matter the source.

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- The writer is a strategic public communications adviser.

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ConstitutionReferendumWilliam RutoRaila Odinga