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Risen from dead: How ‘Yes’ gained lost ground

By | August 6th 2010

Andrew Kipkemboi

Politically speaking, in the beginning, all were in the Yes caravan. In fact the Parliamentary Select Committee on Constitutional Review did not anticipate a contest at the referendum. It was after the lights were turned on that the seemingly strange bedfellows went separate ways.

And thus begun a war of attrition and a long and gruelling campaign for and against the constitution.

In general terms that could be true and, yet hard to prove. Actually, many thought that the Greens had it all sewn up and even the puritans in the church silently admitted that the odds were stacked against them.

The people had wearied of the 20-year-old push for a new Constitution and many of them haunted by the scenes after the contested presidential elections in 2007 had taken a new constitution as a prescription for peace. Barack Obama’s election as US President also fired up the urge for change across the globe and Kenya would not be an exception. Also the US insistence that Kenya needed to execute key reforms to unleash its huge potential was music to the ears of many. Yet two months after the Proposed Constitution was published in April, it was almost certain that they were staring at defeat.

Lack of leadership

Political survival and the rifts in the Grand Coalition and most importantly the clear lack of leadership and strategy was the bane of the Greens.

Add Raila to the mix, who many feel, constantly stirs up tension among groups and you have a formula for failure even as the mutinous Vice-President Kalonzo Musyoka still insisted on dialogue and caution.

Many times, Kalonzo had to battle against a tide of rumours that he was a "watermelon". Green outside, but Red inside. Deputy Prime Minister and Finance minister Uhuru Kenyatta faced a similar predicament and this was blamed for the apparent ambivalence in his Central Province backyard.

"Yes" looked devoid of ideas and any comeback plan. Many feared that it could, in desperation, adopt the gung-ho approach in their campaigns as a last throw of the dice. To great relief it did not. One of the reasons for the growing indifference was that though many Kenyans have faulted the current Constitution, if only they could be made to believe in the alternative.

The Reds seized on this uncertainty and used it to the maximum vacuuming the undecided and locking the moral puritanists. Yes was a hard sell because to be honest is not sexy. Therefore no one could possibly sex up the contents as sweet as No could possibly do.

So the underdog was engaging in an aggressive pitch converting and locking certain regions and given that a few people relish to bloody the nose of Government many were

sustained misinformation.

So despite what the Church and the politicians on the No side claimed were obvious anomalies, the Greens were at pains to drum up support for the Proposed Constitution and worse and handicapped to tell the electorate that adopting the Constitution was only one part, a small part of the reform that is necessary to move the country forward.

The people needed to be told that while the Proposed Constitution is not the best, it is nonetheless necessary. The Reds unrelentingly pulverised the Greens with sustained misinformation and skewed interpretation of the clauses. To those in Yes, all what the No side has engaged in is plain skulduggery, yet pretend to articulate their basis for the opposition. It is like painting a building already doused in black. However much you try, it is hard to have a pure white finish. Matters were not helped much when a fratricidal bug attacked the Greens.

Nonetheless, it was not going to be a cakewalk for the Greens. First of all, the squabbles in ODM would tilt the game in the Rift Valley, the country’s biggest vote basket. Secondly, the lack of direction and coordination from the PNU side made a bad situation worse. Thirdly, most Kenyans profess Christianity. So matters were made worse for the Greens when the renegade ODM politicians went to the mat with the clergy who saw the new document as an ogre.

With President Kibaki’s succession casting a long shadow on the Yes message and everyone in the Green camp apparently unhappy that Prime Minister Raila Odinga had run away with the message and the crowds, there was a lack of discipline and suspicion was brewing. Ill-disciplined members were Yes in the day and No in the night.

Evidently, the wheels were coming off the "Yes" caravan and everyone waited for the crash. While all these was happening, those in the No side were biting their lips in glee. The much vaunted government machinery spurted and a campaign that once crackled with huge potential ceased to excite.

Yes was left clinging to a cliff-edge waiting for someone to read the death rites as its top brass tried to outdo each other in a tasteless refrain that all was well. The heckling of Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka at the launch of the Yes campaigns at Uhuru Park spoke volumes about the debilitating infighting and suspicion among its ranks. Instead of treating the VP as a prodigal son who had found his way home, the "Yes" masses saw him as a villain for his apparent wavering. Things were not going swimmingly well.


The layers of stereotypes in the Yes leadership were so thick that the more important issue of a new Constitution had been pushed to the back-burner.

So after numerous false starts, the Yes was left to counter the message and not to expound on the good side of the Proposed Constitution. And even then, their message was miscued and sometimes out of sync in contrast to the clergy’s and "No" politicians’ pulverising polemic sponged by the gullible faithful.

When the Prime Minister was taken ill with a month to go to the referendum date, it was one blow too many for a side bedevilled with factional fights and sectarian interests. Granted, President Kibaki many said, never won any battle for himself, others did. And to have it all rest on a man ill-at-ease in rallies, lacking in charisma and seemingly out of touch with reality was to hand victory to the Reds.

But the tide turned for the Yes side when the President walked into the campaign maelstrom with energy never seen before. But the real turning point for the Yes side was the media campaigns that depicted William Ruto the de facto No leader as a flip-flopper. That eroded the gains from the Reds. It never recovered since then, only a miracle will overturn its fortunes.


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