Contested referendum will divide Kenyans, warns NCIC

Chairman Kobia says the foundation of the BBI was to unite and without consensus the initiative will miss its cardinal objective.

In Summary

• Kobia says the proposal to expand the Executive will not address inclusivity.

• Chairman says the opportunities for the majority of Kenyans in terms of accessing resources should be given priority and that is being addressed by the BBI.

NCIC chairman Samuel Kobia during an interview in his Nairobi office
NCIC chairman Samuel Kobia during an interview in his Nairobi office
Image: Wilfred Nyangaresi

The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has cautioned President Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga against bulldozing their way through a referendum without consensus.

In an interview with the Star, NCIC chairman Samuel Kobia said the foundation of the Building Bridges Initiative was to unite the country, hence a contested plebiscite will miss its cardinal objective.

Dr Kobia said the BBI process should be devoid of politics, noting that if the door for more debate on the report that has recommended constitutional amendments is shut, many Kenyans will feel left out.

"There was a stated intention that the BBI process will be inclusive and all Kenyans' views will be accommodated. Now it seems that is not going to be the case on the way to a referendum.

"If it is a contested referendum ,then we will not have achieved that stated objective of  inclusivity and uniting Kenyans,” Kobia told the Star at his office in Nairobi.

"That is really where we need to challenge the BBI to be faithful to its integrity of building bridges that unite all Kenyans. I think there is still time for that to happen.

"We have seen many quarters where this is being said that there are still issues which if not addressed, then we will have a very contested referendum that could divide more than unite.”

The President and his handshake partner Raila have announced that there is no more time to allow Kenyans to make amendments to the document as those whose proposals will not be considered have the opportunity voice their concerns at the ballot.

According to Kobia, however, the proposal to expand the Executive by creating the positions of Prime Minister and two deputies will not address inclusivity. He said the positions are largely to benefit politicians and not common Kenyans.

Kobia said the best way to make Kenyans feel not excluded is when they are not discriminated against in terms of resources and opportunities.

“Our major concern really is not about the top echelon of power. Ours is how inclusive are we when it comes to the levels where you have the majority of Kenyans. Because by expanding the Executive, you might satisfy the political aspirations of individuals,” he said.

"As we know, even those in the Opposition are individuals. Of course they will tell their community that 'we are representing you,' but if history is anything go by, it doesn't translate into development in the areas, say where the President or the Deputy President, or Prime Minister come from, it does not. It will only benefit individuals, political aspirations and interests.”

He noted that what is bedevilling Kenya is the historical nature of politics weaved around tribalism so that those elected into office favour their communities.

Dr Kobia said employment opportunities, both at the national government and in the counties, should be on merit through a fair process that does not discriminate against certain communities.

"Kenyans are hardworking people, give them opportunities and they will run with it. The opportunities for the majority of Kenyans in terms of accessing resources should be given priority and that is being addressed by the BBI . This is one area the NCIC will fully participate in its implementation. It is part of the work we are doing,” he said.

He said the commission had to call out Deputy President William Ruto for the use of 'hustlers verses dynasties' narrative, saying it has the potential to spark class wars in the country.

He said his decision to caution Ruto and his troops was informed by what happened in Rwanda in 1994 where the Hutu and Tutsi fought in a devastating ethnic war.

“My concern was not really the usage of the term 'hustler'. The danger here is the dichotomy between hustlers and the dynasties. If you come up with such a dichotomy, then you become confrontational. And when you become confrontational, there is the likelihood of explosion. The NCIC would not like to see Kenyans go the route of Rwanda,” he said.

Kobia said while the intention of the narrative is to rally a certain section of  society, those who feel downtrodden can explode. He called on politicians to come up with better ways to rally their supporters without setting up people against one another.

“How do we address this? Is it by the narrative of the hustlers vs dynasties? There are other ways in which we can address the issue of poverty in Kenya and  in particular the impoverished. There is natural poverty. Some people have not been impoverished by government systems and structures while others have,” he said.

Kobia is set to celebrate one year since they were sworn in November last year. He said the commission has marked some hotspots as the country gears up for the BBI referendum and the 2022 election campaigns.

The areas include the Rift Valley; Coast, particularly Mombasa; Isiolo; Meru; Samburu; and Nairobi.

“These are some of the hotspots we say we need to watch very carefully. This is where we also try to invest our resources and time, especially civic education,” he said.

"As we head to 2022, we have hotspots. Kenyan politics is very ethnically based. And therefore, we know from our history where there are possible hotspots. These are places where we have a sizable presence of majority and minority groups and this generates a lot of heat during campaigns.”

He warned that hatemongers will be dealt with, revealing that a multi-agency team bringing together the NCIC, the Directorate of Criminal Investigations, the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission and the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has been set up to deal with inciters.

Kobia said that since they took office, they have dealt with 74 cases of hate speech and ethnic contempt. Of the 74 cases, five involve current MPs and two governors (one from Coast and the other from Rift Valley).

He said 50 cases, including those involving senior government officials, are pending investigations. He dismissed claims that he takes instructions from the state to deal with politicians and private citizens who are critical of the Uhuru administration.

"We have no discrimination when discharging our mandate, whether ethnically or political persuasions. In terms of politicians, we have cases we are dealing with now, two governors and MPs from across the political divide. So we really have a cross-section. For us, we apply the NCI Act, which is what guides us. Every Kenyan, except the President, is a fair game for us,” he said.