Barely 10 years since we held the last referendum in Kenya, drums for yet another overhaul are now beckoning. And from recent global happenstances that have seen a general rise in the clamor for referendum in countries such as Britain, Hungary, Columbia and Italy, one would be excused to imagine that the calls from a section of our political class are coincidental. They are not.
Referendums are held for many reasons. One of the main unspoken ones is that they are an avenue for the political class, unsure of their grip, to assess their own support bases. Coupled with the need to develop alliances that later develop into political outfits, it’s therefore quite easy to see why any politician worth their salt would die to have two referendums in less than a decade!
Another reason politicians love referendums is so that they get an opportunity to whip the emotions of their followers. Coupled with breaking down complex referendum options to a largely illiterate and indifferent voters, the campaign period is littered with half-truths, distorted realities and plain lies by leaders with a sole aim of whipping the emotions of their supporters. In the end, even when these leaders lose the plebiscite vote, they are sure to earn a huge following from their own backyards. DP William Ruto is a perfect example that comes to mind.
Constitutions are living documents, we are always told. That citizens can, and should change them at the earliest available opportunity to improve their own livelihoods. Unfortunately, this narrative may not sell this time round, as our political class will need to thoroughly convince us that the Referendum debate is not solely about them. Especially coming under the backdrop of a bipartisan motion by MPs to increase their pensions by 700 per cent!
By their very nature, plebiscites are mostly about bipartite choices with no grey areas. But if Kenyans would be abit more critical, they would realize that this specific referendum call, more than anything else, will be a proxy war between two main political factions, with the Kenyatta succession squarely at the center of it. Not the ballooning wage bill caused by over-representation, neither is it about the much needed electoral reforms. As it currently stands, the push for a referendum is not only mischievous but mean, because it will cost us time, resources and will most likely leave us more polarized.
If we must have a Referendum, then it must be about the kind of country we will leave behind when we are all long gone. It must not be about personal or short term interests that will need amending again before 2027. Rather, it must be about the lives of millions of ordinary Kenyans struggling to remain alive today. Because while some are struggling to add another tier of governance, millions of Kenyans are out there constantly running away from Poverty, Disease and Death. And many of them have already succumbed.
We can do better than this.