KIMANI: Is it politicians or mwananchi's referendum?

Voters queue to cast their votes in 2017/File
Voters queue to cast their votes in 2017/File

After the political truce between President Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, the head of state has repeatedly told us he want his legacy to be the unity. To this end, he gazetted the Building Bridges Initiative to collect peoples’ opinions before compiling a report on the way forward to achieving the ever-elusive unity among Kenyans.

To bolster the President’s endeavour, many pundits and politicians agree that time is ripe for the country to evaluate our political system with a view of enhancing it to achieve national cohesion and peaceful coexistence.

The majority of politicians seem to agree that we must have a referendum for political inclusivity and curb negative ethnicity! The winner-take-all system, politicians argue, is to blame for perennial post-election chaos, as some communities feel disenfranchised from access to government opportunities and development.

To remedy this, politicians across political divide are increasingly calling for restructuring of the national government to create the Prime Minister post in addition to the presidency.

I have two problems with this proposal. First, I think it is a thinly veiled harbinger of the BBI mission. If I am right, then BBI is a glorified act of window dressing aimed at hoodwinking Kenyans into supporting a premeditated referendum.

Second, this proposal is downright unimaginative and I cannot fathom why politicians are pushing for it. This leads me to another suspicion: Politicians have intentionally misdiagnosed our problem and want to administer the wrong medicine to achieve their selfish ulterior motives.

By blaming the winner-take-it all arrangement, politicians cannot be more dishonest! Our Constitution provides for inalieniable right of universal adult suffrage and the winner of every presidential election is determined through excercise of this right by Kenyans. Why then should we blame the majority for having their way?

Let's be honest with ourselves. Our problem lies with those who form government and misuse power to reward supporters and neglect supporters of the losing coalitions. The others are those who upon refusing to accept the will of the majority go on to incite their minions to violence. It has nothing to do with the system that determines who forms the government.

To understand better what our real problem is, let’s take a trip down the memory lane and conduct a root cause analysis of perpetual disenfranchisement of some people from the government.

On December 31, 2018, Gatundu South MP Moses Kuria complained that the people of Central Kenya have nothing to show for their unrivalled support for Jubilee government. In January 9 this year, the three Ukambani governors met and among other things, complained that the region has remained largely undeveloped despite Kalonzo Musyoka having been a key decision maker in the governments of president Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki.

According to these leaders, political support to a party or coalition that forms government should be rewarded through political patronage by the Presidency and needless to say, this should happen at the expense of those who did not support the winner.

But is this parochial thinking new to Kenyan politics?

Jomo Kenyatta’s regime mastered and entrenched the art of the oppressive divide - and- rule politics of reward and punishment. Communities supportive of the regime were accorded preferential access to jobs in the civil service; the military and public resources were favourably allocated to their region. In return, the communities offered blind loyalty to the regime, turning a blind eye to the ravages of its misrule. Western Kenya communities were politically and economically alienated from as a punishment for supporting the opposition.

When President Moi took over, he made good his promise to follow in the footsteps of his predecessor and what followed was 24 years of unprecedented levels of

cronyism and political patronage.

In 2014, a year after Kibaki's ten years rule, NCIC conducted a survey on ethnicity in civil service. The study compared the 2009 census with ethnic representation in civil service and revealed that members of the Kikuyu community were over represented in the 168 government agencies surveyed by 5.5 per cent.

Statistics on Jubilee government’s major road projects that were under construction or completed over the period between 2013 and 2016 shows that roads built In Coast, Western and Nyanza regions would, upon completion, cover a distance of 556Km at a combined cost of Sh38.9 billion, while Central Kenya and Rift valley had roads covering 757Km at a combined cost Sh52.7 billion.

Politics of reward and punishment is undoubtedly the biggest hindrance to national cohesion and peaceful coexistence in Kenya. It leaves communities that supported the winning team feeling entitled to government resources, demanding reward for their votes, while those that supported the losing parties or coalitions are left out in the cold feeling politically and economically neglected. This has repeatedly pitted tribes against others in a hostile political competition as they seek to produce the winning to have their turn eat.

If President Uhuru is keen on uniting all the tribes of Kenya, he must start by a keen evaluation of his government to rid it of any element of this insidious politics. He should then institute relevant policies and amendments to the law to ensure successive governments are by law compelled to distribute national resources equitably.

If we must have a referendum, President Kenyatta may need to consult and incorporate proposals made by his deputy , William Ruto, in his address at Chatham House. Ruto seems to have understood our problem better than any other politician.

Masters student of Public Policy Analysis and Administration