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February 23, 2019

Referendum Should Address Kenya's Intractable Problems

When Kenyans wake up and go to bed, they should be thinking, not of whether their leaders slept well or not, but of how to resolve their intractable problems – how to develop and end their poverty, how to eradicate negative ethnicity and restore nationalism, how to be moral and eliminate corruption and what system to substitute capitalism with, to end endless social and economic problems.

Because the current constitution did not address these problems adequately, they continue to disturb the mind of the nation and should now be tackled with a referendum or a serious national debate in and outside Parliament.

Unfortunately, the real intention of the proponents of a referendum today is not to solve these social and economic problems. It is to use the referendum as a platform for the highest possible limelight for Raila, Kalonzo and Wetang'ula, and an early opportunity to put Raila Odinga to the presidency through a referendum whose victory will be interpreted as a vote of no confidence in the Jubilee government.

But will the referendum happen? If it does, I will support it if done on the following criteria. First, to avoid conflict of interest, the referendum should not be led by Raila or Cord, and neither should the Committee of Experts be appointed by Cord as it has already done. It is obvious that if Raila leads this referendum, its purpose will be to serve his ambitions for presidency, not to solve the nation’s intractable problems.

The second criterion is that the referendum must address problems that were neglected by the current constitution and whose solutions are now acknowledged as key to unlocking our development. In Kenya, a referendum will be useless if it is not conducted to solve our killer problems.

Although Raila, Kalonzo and Wetang'ula are not addressing national problems, and are thinking of power only, Kenya needs a referendum to solve its intractable problems.

But for a referendum to solve common man’s problems, however, a neutral leadership of the process must be sought while an all-inclusive team must be appointed by government, opposition, religious bodies, civil society and other Kenyans to identify the questions that the referendum will address and also decide on the right time for it.

A referendum will succeed only if it is used as a national platform of resolving everybody’s problems and not a political boxing ring where leaders aim at killing one another to get the trophy of presidency.

The trouble is that though Raila is using the referendum for the wrong purpose, a referendum is necessary to solve difficult national problems and should not merely be opposed to frustrate Raila.

But Raila should in turn relinquish his assumed leadership of the referendum or he will kill it long before it happens. Were President Uhuru to support the referendum, he and Raila should distance themselves from the process as much as possible. Only this would help to depoliticise and make the process useful.

While a referendum could be useful and necessary to resolve our national problems, the government will kill it, not necessarily in denial of problems but in an effort to frustrate and deny Raila credit for it. Equally, Raila could propose and still kill the referendum if he insists on leading and using it only to serve his ambitions and interests.

Should the whole country accept a referendum, certain national matters must feature in it. First, given that Kenya has been a poor country for the last 51 years, a referendum must determine whether we shall continue to walk the difficult path of capitalism or whether we shall guide ourselves into the future by the principles and ideals of social democracy. Debate over what system is best for the development of Kenya cannot be postponed for ever. It must be resolved now, once and for all.

Second, ethnically divided as we are today, a referendum must state whether we shall have negative ethnicity or nationalism as the ideology of our politics, political parties, political coalitions and government. Through a referendum, Kenya must decide today, whether it will be a united or divided country.

Third, through a referendum, Kenya must choose between corruption and integrity. To end corruption of losing hundreds of billions of shillings every year to graft, chapter six on ethics, integrity and national values should be implemented and civil servants banned from doing business. Else, we should declare Kenya a nation of corruption and immorality.

Fourth, through a referendum, detention without trial shall be erased from the constitution in a national determination whether Kenya will be a dictatorship or a democracy.

The constitution cannot continue to be mute on the question whether Kenya will be a full-fledged democracy or a dictatorship. If Kenya votes for democracy, it shall erase detention without trial from the constitution or continue to preserve it if it votes for dictatorship.

Fifth, a referendum will also decide whether the Bill of Rights is alive or dead. It will be a constitutional lie for the bill to continue promising people rights of food, housing, water and other rights without implementation.

Sixth, through the referendum, Kenya will consciously and without hypocrisy decide whether to keep or discard her class apartheid in health and education that is today responsible for the crisis in the health sector. Without resolving these questions, a referendum will be nothing but a waste of time.

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