Referendum, 2022 election campaigns insensitive, ignorant of people’s needs

Signature collection books for the 'Punduza Mzigo' referendum campaign./COURTESY
Signature collection books for the 'Punduza Mzigo' referendum campaign./COURTESY

There have been numerous calls from the Executive to desist and suspend 2022 campaigns and the obsession of mulling about who is best suited to succeed President Uhuru Kenyatta.

That clarion call has been adopted mainly to focus on service delivery and remove attention from succession politics as that heightens tensions in the country and creates an electioneering atmosphere that impedes development. Lately, the plebiscite campaigns have taken root, especially after the surprise handshake between erstwhile political antagonists, Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga last year.

The proponents of a referendum say law changes will remedy the ills facing the nation such as unequal distribution of wealth and winner takes all model. The opponents of a constitutional change argue that a plebiscite is simply meant to create positions for a few. All in all, referendum campaigns are misinformed and very insensitive given the state of the nation.

The World Poverty Clock report recently ranked Kenya as the eighth nation globally and sixth continentally with the highest number of people living in extreme poverty. The report showed

30 per cent (14.7 million) of the 49,784,304 citizens are dirt poor, so much that they spend Sh197 daily or less than Sh5,910 monthly.

Unemployment is a scourge that has given rise to religious radicalisation and mental health issues such as depression amongst the youth. It stands at 53 per cent, according to Trends and Insights for Africa. Ninety-four per cent of the unemployed youth are actively looking for jobs in a country where industries and companies are shutting down due to losses and an unfriendly environment to do business due to abysmal corruption. A recent report from the Transparency International ranked Kenya as one of the most corrupt nations globally, where billions of shillings are stashed in overseas accounts and high level corrupt suspects are let off though lenient bails despite being culpable.

With a burgeoning health crisis, where nurses are on strike in many counties, further paralysing an already brittle health infrastructure, last year medical experts warned of a worse health crisis in 2020. Because it is expected that in 2020 Kenya would have elevated herself to a middle-income country, which will not require donor aid, this will deepen the health crisis further. The government contributes a paltry 36 per cent to the health sector, whilst the rest of the 64 per cent , which forms the bulk, is contributed to by donors who are set to withdraw funding next year.

Therefore, conversations about the need to change the Constitution are insensitive and convey how detached the political class in Kenya is. Poverty, unemployment and corruption are conspicuously crippling our dirt poor nation should be the talk that pervades and dominates headlines as opposed to creating positions to an already ruling, bourgeoisie and elite class.

I highly doubt that a Turkana resident , where poverty rate stands at 87.4 per cent or affects 756,306 residents , would be gung-ho of a referendum instead improving her or his standard of living. That Turkana resident is representative of the socio-economic status of millions in our country whose priorities revolve around food, job and shelter security and not a plebiscite eagerly championed by those in power or who want power.

A referendum is misplaced and extremely insensitive when all factors are considered. If the country does not have enough money to pay nurses and teachers, surely a referendum that would be a multi-billion shilling exercise should be a moot issue.

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