Crowded calendar threatens to derail referendum push

Those opposed to the vote cite the country’s crowded calendar and lack of budge line for 2019-20

In Summary

• Kenya has four crucial issues whose outcomes will either guarantee a more prosperous and stable country or a more divided nation.

•The country faces a national population census in August this year, boundary delimitation, a possible referendum and the 2022 General Election.

Signature collection books for the 'Punduza Mzigo' referendum campaign
Signature collection books for the 'Punduza Mzigo' referendum campaign

Will Kenya be able to hold a referendum before 2022?

Anti-plebiscite forces say the country’s calendar is already too crowded to allow for another national electoral exercise.

Kenya has four crucial issues whose results will either mean a more prosperous and stable country, or a more divided nation, given past experiences.


Emerging from a divisive and protracted twin presidential run, Kenya is poised to deliver a national population census in August this year, a  mandated boundary delimitation, a much-talked-of but not settled referendum and finally the 2022 General Election.

Already, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission has begun verification of the 1.4 million signatures submitted by former Thirdway Alliance presidential candidate Ekuru Aukot, known as the Punguza Mizigo initiative. Aukot seeks to drastically alter the Constitution to, among others, reduce the number of costly MPs from 416 to 147 and ease the burden on taxpayers. 

The verification process ended on Friday.

The Building Bridges Initiative fronted by President Uhuru Kenyatta and ODM leader Raila Odinga is currently collecting views on how to tackle negative ethnicity, corruption, divisive politics and other challenges.

The BBI exercise, which is widely expected to recommend changes that would lead to a referendum, was first given one year to submit its proposals. The first deadline was in May this year but was extended by five months to October 23.

Despite all indications of a likely referendum, it illicit's mixed reactions, with leaders split down the middle on whether a constitutional change is necessary before 2022.

Opponents cite the country’s crowded calendar and lack of funding in the 2019-20 budget. Some claim it will only create additional positions to reward a few individuals, further burdening the taxpayers.


Deputy President William Ruto in February speech at Chatham House in London opposed expansion of the Executive, stating it will not eliminate the political quagmire that precedes the country’s polls.

On Wednesday, National Assembly Majority leader Aden Duale  ‘cautioned’ woman representatives and senators to be wary as their positions are earmarked for scrapping in Aukot's proposal.

Right now, we are talking about the budget. If there was to be a referendum, there should be some allocation for it. But now, the referendum is not there. Whoever is thinking of one should think about it again. I don’t see it that we are going to run a programme without a budget.
Majority whip and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali

“Already there is a referendum question. There is a referendum and you (woman representatives) should be worried,” Duale said on the floor of the House.

But Majority whip and Mumias East MP Benjamin Washiali contradicted the Garissa Township lawmaker, saying Duale’s sentiment was a mere proposal that cannot be realised this year.

“That (a referendum) is just a proposal. He (Duale) may have talked about it but it is not coming now. You know a proposal coming to the floor of the House now can be implemented in 2023,” Washiali told the Star.

Minority leader John Mbadi dismissed the budgetary allocation argument, saying a referendum can be prioritised ina A funding a referendum can as well be prioritised in a supplementary budget.

“We can easily get the money, if we want to do a referendum in the next financial year (2019-20), we can provide the money. This country nowadays does two supplementary budgets, so we can do even a third supplementary budget just for a referendum,” Mbadi said.

The Suba South MP also dismissed talk of a crowded calendar, which has been fronted by anti-referendum forces.

“A census takes two or three days. How does that affect a referendum? Are the people who are conducting these exercises are different? This country must make some changes before we go to the next elections and that calls for a referendum,” Mbadi said. He is the ODM national chairman.

He added that nothing will prevent the country from going into a referendum if the BBI team submits proposals that will require Kenyans to vote to make changes.

MPs Tindi Mwale (Butere) and Peter Kaluma (Homa Bay Town) backed the referendum call, saying the country’s calendar should not be used to deny Kenyans a chance to correct ills affecting their country.

“It is clear there will be a referendum. It is also clear it will be undertaken within one year. It is an idea that is generally now accepted. We need to amend various provisions of our Constitution so that we can govern ourselves better. I do not believe we do not have time to do that,” Kaluma said.

Tindi said a  referendum should be tailored to address myriad challenges faced by Kenyans in their daily lives.

“Having a referendum or not having it should not be based on practicality. It should be based on whether it is going to change the lives of Kenyans. If it is going to change the lives of Kenyans, whether the country’s calendar is crowded or not, then we need to have it but if it is not going to change lives, even if we do not have that crowding, then we should not have it,” Tindi said.