Referendum will be a ‘handshake’ between Kenyans and their leaders

President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga during the famed March 9 handshake. [File, Standard]
Historians believe the handshake was a gesture of peace that demonstrated the human hand holds no weapon cast on it.

On March 9, 2018, a simple act of shaking hands changed the fortunes of a nation.

The simple act undertaken when President Uhuru Kenyatta outstretched his hand, metaphorically and physically, to be met by the hand of ODM leader Raila Odinga, took the wind out of decades of political animus between peoples, tribes and political parties.

As anyone who lived through the violence of 2007/08 knows all too well how Kenyans can harm each other in the name of politics.

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So the significance of this peaceful act between two scions of rival families--who were among those who established the Republic-- should not be lost on anyone.

However, while the act was momentous in itself, if that was the end, it would not be enough.

The Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) is a concrete effort that resulted from this act, and is a very honest attempt to ignite reforms to improve the lives of Kenyans, importantly, through unity and dialogue.

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Now, with the discussion on a referendum, the one handshake appears to give birth to many.

Just like Uhuru and Raila, the spirit of unity and dialogue has extended to more political figures such as Wiper Democratic Movement’s Kalonzo Musyoka, Amani National Congress’ Musalia Mudavadi, Ford-Kenya’s Moses Wetang’ula and Kanu’s Gideon Moi.

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The fact that all of these leaders who represent almost the entire country are asking for the approval of the people before moving ahead is significant.

Thus, the process that Uhuru started with one handshake, reaching out in dialogue, will soon become 50 million.

After receiving the mandate of the people in 2017, President Kenyatta has the executive power, and if he requires parliamentary approval, he has a majority in parliament.

In other words, Uhuru did not need the handshake legally or constitutionally.

Nonetheless, to undertake the many substantive changes like fighting corruption, the Big Four Agenda and reforming the Constitution, he requires the approval of the Kenyan people and their representatives.

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This has been amply demonstrated by the BBI task force in the public meetings recently wrapped up after crisscrossing the country, visiting all 47 counties and listening to people from all walks of life.

They have been focusing on nine specific issues that have arisen in our political discourse; ethnicity, lack of national ethos, inclusivity, devolution, divisive elections, security, corruption, shared prosperity, and responsibilities and rights.

This is about changing the way we do things in Kenya, it is about looking forward and not being wedded to the past, especially our worst practices.

It is not only about listening and engagement, but also about breaking down barriers, between peoples and between the political classes and the average citizens.

Democracies work if the people feel like they are being listened to, and Uhuru from the moment he took office has shown that he wants to hear from the people and give them a voice.

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Obviously, as President, he cannot meet with every single Kenyan. However, he has devised intelligent and innovative systems to ensure that the voice of the people is heard.

First, through the handshakes at the highest level he has brought in the various representatives of the people to hear from them, especially where they might differ.

Secondly, through the BBI public meetings, his representatives have sat in all four corners of Kenya to listen to the people, their hopes and aspirations.

These have been noted and will now be seen as a new constitution is hammered out that meets the expectations and dreams of a nation.

Thus, the proposed referendum will be the result of these 50 million handshakes.

While all may not be happy with every element, the resultant referendum will be possibly one of the greatest experiments of representative democracy in modern times.

The document will be representative of what the BBI has heard from the citizens and then we must vote whether to accept the will of the majority for it.

This is what we mean when we said that around a year and a half ago, some flesh was pressed between two individuals, but a nation has been irrevocably changed for the better ever since.

Mr Cherambos comments on topical socio-political issues.

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