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January 18, 2019

Referendum is a must do, not a choice

Voters queue at Kayole Social Hall to cast their votes during the proposed constitution referendum./file
Voters queue at Kayole Social Hall to cast their votes during the proposed constitution referendum./file

To hold or not to hold a referendum is just an idea. It is not a reality. A referendum needs rations that are not on the table just yet. To therefore purport to oppose a referendum that is not there, to pretend to take sides on a ‘yes’ and ‘no’ platform that does not exist is presumptive foolishness. Yet that’s what the coterie of Deputy President William Ruto courtiers is doing on weekend political stumps.

It does not matter there isn’t anything tangible they are opposing; rather they oppose anything and everything resembling a referendum. Even when the formative ‘yes’ side has put forth test proposals to draw counter proposals, the shouting ‘no’ brigade is only bothered with protecting an imaginary throne. They are superstitiously convinced that the alien called referendum will steal the crown from Ruto. Hence the less said about this folly to oppose nothing the better.

Let’s pitch for something real.

We enacted a new Constitution in 2010. By 2012, we had almost finished panelling it into a workman’s tool via legislation. But since 2013, we have experimented with the mother law with diminishing returns. In four years, we cannibalised and weakened the document rather than improved and enriched it for our own good.

Many laws enacted do not work since they contradict the mother law itself. Many others have been truncated to defeat the very purpose for which we wanted a new Constitution. Yet others just do not work or were meant to abort the implementation of the Constitution.

Just think of the defeatist security, leadership and integrity laws; the defective electoral and land laws; the aborted police and devolution laws and the pretence at oversighting the Executive by Parliament. Add to this litany of abortions the 20 per cent flaws identified by the proposers in 2010 and a case is made for a forensic audit to seal the crevices that bog down smooth enjoyment of the Constitution by all Kenyans.

Nothing exemplifies the urgency of pumping life into the Constitution more than the need to fix the electoral landscape, not necessarily for the sake of 2022 but for two gangpunch political insecurity risks ahead. There is the looming census that will not just be useful in resource planning and allocation, but determining the next potentially divisive task of reviewing electoral boundaries. You go wrong on one, you mess up the other.

The question is how prepared is Kenya to carry out these tasks without rancour. Can Kenya afford the two reviews, shoulder a referendum and hold a friction-free election in 2022? Which activity should be varied — the census, electoral boundaries review or 2022 election?

The answer is none of the above. The three errands complement each other and are all constitutional prerogatives in a Siamese-like grip that cannot be varied without killing them all; or in our case, without changing the Constitution. The census is mandatory for a credible boundaries review to take place, while the integrity of the 2022 election hinges on a boundaries review that secures equity in representation and equality of the vote. Whichever way, the reality is we must tamper with the Constitution.

It means a referendum cannot be wished away at the altar of protecting an individual’s ambition in succession turf wars. The will of the masses must prevail against the individual. But there is a problem that we must fix with surgical urgency. This is the tattered, irredeemable Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission. The census is the mandate of another agency but electoral delimitation and election 2022 cannot be undertaken without an IEBC look-alike.

This means that since we cannot fix the threadbare IEBC, a new electoral and boundaries agency is urgent. The alternative is to hive off the boundaries review from the IEBC and give the mandate to a new other outfit. Unfortunately we will keep bumping into the elephant in the room — tinkering with the Constitution. It means the sooner we confront this reality the sooner we will be done with avoiding an electoral Armageddon.

We must tell off Ruto for imagining his ambition to succeed Uhuru overrides the safety of all other Kenyans; Raila and Uhuru for their alleged handshake magic wand that seeks to impose a ‘prince’ on the presidential throne, and the political minions that dot the landscape spewing ethnic hatred, intimidation and war cries. We ought to know better than not to care about Kenya.

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