Kenyans must not be stampeded into a politicians’ referendum. We should be persuaded it is important that we have one and then be guided into it having agreed it is ours to own because it is in our best interest that we do.
In this regard, it is not enough to tell Kenyans, as does Mr Raila Odinga, that we should prepare for one next year because President Kenyatta and he have agreed that we should have one. It is important we be told what the referendum is about and why it is important.
Kenyans know that Mr Odinga wants the Constitution changed in order to drastically reorder the political and structural architecture of the country by, inter alia, making the shift to a Westminster-style parliamentary system and a three-tier government. It sounds, and is, complex.
Mr Francis Atwoli, the Secretary- General of the Central Organisation of Trade Unions, wants a change of the Constitution that will guarantee President Kenyatta a national role in the political pecking order when his legal tenure comes to an end in 2022. That’s eyebrow-raising.
Since the President recently justified imposition of austerity in government and taxes on the populace on an expensive Constitution that created myriad salaried elective and non-elective positions, many politicians want the constitution changed. This is the bandwagon effect.
There are serious thinkers, among them experts in constitutional law, who are asking for an independent audit of the basic law with a view to spelling out, for exhaustive national discussion, what marketers would call its strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats. This is creditable.
I first called for a rethink of the Constitution in 2015 and revisited the matter in the lead-up to last year’s General Election and its tumultuous aftermath. My view has been that the Constitution should be changed to strengthen devolution and to create and enshrine inclusivity.
There are, therefore, as many views on what needs to change in Kenya’s constitution to make ours a better society as there are people with opinions. But there are opinion leaders and people with power, such as politicians and legislators, in particular, who influence and make the law.
And therein lies the problem: Politicians support a certain setup, not because it bears the tool kit to make Kenya a prosperous country, but because it will give them power and stop the next party from getting it. In Kenyan political parlance, politicians always have a hidden agenda.
Deputy President William Ruto and conservative clergy opposed this Constitution in the 2010 referendum. Now he is opposed to a referendum on change of the basic law. He sees the clamour for change as designed to stop him from succeeding President Kenyatta.
Mr Odinga dived deep into the duvet with President Kenyatta after fighting him furiously for us, he said, to find out where the rain started beating us; to end tribalism; pursue electoral justice; have national dialogue; find plenty within our borders; and justice be our shield and defender.
This was to engender national healing after a bitter election pushed Kenya to the precipice. But Mr Odinga is yet to tell Kenyans how his secretive and exclusive contract on Kenya with the President is a driver of national healing and not a purveyor of political division and exclusion.
In the lead-up to the last General Election and in its sordid aftermath, Mr Odinga completely discredited, damaged and demolished the reputation of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission as a polls umpire. He surely cannot call for a plebiscite before demanding IEBC’s exit.
Before Mr Odinga dived into the duvet with the President, he had campaigned for national dialogue, but he would appear to have assigned this role to his handpicked 14-person task force. But, ominously, it is largely unseen, unheard and moribund until Mr Odinga talks about it.
Strategically, political protagonists use task forces, as commissions of inquiry, to buy time, pull the wool over the eyes of opponents, or as safety valves to ease tensions while according them time and space to plot and act.
Mr Odinga’s task force will likely follow his public lead and recommend a plebiscite. But this will be putting the cart before the horse. Let us first have an independent audit by capable and competent professionals to usher in a debate before we agree on the changes to the basic law.
The alternative is national dialogue because healing of Kenya should be an inclusive and not exclusive enterprise.