I do not like making excuses so off the bat, as one of those involved in the Okoa Kenya initiative to amend the Constitution, I must apologise. We dropped the ball. When we set out on this very noble journey to strengthen devolution, re-jig our electoral law and entrench inclusivity in public appointments, we were well aware of the pitfalls that waited. Surprise surprise, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) on Tuesday declared the initiative dead on arrival for failing to meet the required threshold of a million signatures.
The disappointing thing is that this was the first threat on the list of threats the initiative faced, and we somehow were unable to surmount it. It was an extremely onerous task to lay strategies to circumvent guaranteed state interference and sabotage in the process. We were incessantly goaded with the question, how we would trust the IEBC with the signatures when the CORD leadership publicly derided the Commission, in an obvious and sinister invitation to attempt constitutional amendment outside the Constitution. In fact many in the media were “disappointed” following the Saba Saba rally that announced the Okoa Kenya Movement. It is easy to see why choosing the path of constitutionalism and rule of law to achieve your ends in an era of wanton theft of public resources and impunity, was an anti- climax for some.
At all times during the referendum drive, Okoa Kenya ran an inclusive and open process covered widely by the media. Signatures were not collected in the dark of night but under scrutiny and in broad daylight. In counties like Nakuru, the local overlord had declared that no signatures would be collected as “his county” was a Jubilee zone. Signature collection books were burned, some bought off.
During the period of signature collation and verification, the movement was mocked as being “dead”. The media incessantly prodded and pushed Okoa to name the date when the signatures would be delivered to the IEBC. When the IEBC was finally seized of the signatures they threw around a slew of excuses, played cat and mouse and dilly-dallied with the verification process. Jubilee mandarins soon came out of the woodwork claiming the signatures were “fake”. How they would have known this is anybody’s guess. Sure enough, the IEBC by sheer coincidence now sings that very tune. At any rate, as a delaying tactic, the move is genius. A challenge in our courts mired as they are in all sort of miasma, will doubtlessly take many months.
Resubmission of the signatures is also a bleak option because the law does not provide expressly for a set period of time within which the IEBC must verify the signatures; a resubmission will mean that the referendum may not even happen within this decade. The drafters of the Constitution had simply not envisaged an electoral commission with the sort of skullduggery the current one has so firmly taken up. They had assumed in error that Kenya was the sort of place where the electoral body would be reasonable, fair, impartial and prompt. It now seems that we are at the point where something has to give.
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We are no doubt about to see all manner of constitutional experts airing their views on the matter. Bringing about a referendum is, however, a very straight forward process that the IEBC has done its best to turn into rocket science. While strings can be pulled to postpone and ultimately avoid referenda, nothing can stop an idea whose time has come. Those actively involved in suppressing the will of the people must realise that a time is coming when these kinds of games will become untenable.
When all the institutions are marionettes of the Executive, and the media is gagged and stifled, the effect on the people is akin to sealing all outlets on a boiling kettle.