When the IIEC completed voter registration and reached their targets about two-and-a-half months ago, Kenyans were ecstatic. The records were an indicator of Wanjiku’s desire to participate in democratic processes of governance.
All eyes were focused on the Committee of Experts, who had not only been very instrumental in the drafting of the proposed Constitution, but who were also expected to begin civic education. In fact, I remember stating that the success of the referendum process would be hinged on how effective voter education was.
Now when I look around, I am a worried man. When I talk to people, their feelings reflect the disappointment with the quality of civic education. I would have expected the CoE to hold public barazas where citizens can deliberate on the contents of the draft, including but not limited to contentious issues. I would have expected them to deal with specifics regarding implementation of the new laws and how the Constitution was envisaged to be effected.
Unfortunately, voter education (read mis-education) has been dominated by politics where the concerned parties have a hidden agenda. Today if somebody tells you to vote one way or the other, you scrutinise them with suspicion in your eyes. You wonder what pawn you are supposed to play in this political chess game.
Nonetheless, we should understand the circumstances under which the CoE has operated. For example, how could they have been expected to discharge their duties effectively when the early campaigns by politicians were already purposely skewed to confuse Kenyans?
Secondly, this team did not have adequate resources allocated to them. Unlike IIEC which is in control of their own secretariat, the CoE had to outsource their work to other administrators, meaning that some value could have been lost in translation.
What I want to propose is that it is not too late to educate Kenyans on the contents of the draft. The referendum is a very emotive issue and I can assure you that most Kenyans are already fatigued with the Yes and No campaigns. We cannot afford to let the apathy that is developing, to be what guides the path of our beloved nation.
Our current Constitution was drafted in a different arena and cannot cope with new and emerging demands for democracy, governance, accountability etc. As a developing nation, we would also like to profile ourselves in a different manner to attract investment, and this cannot happen with the status quo. At the very least, we ought to weigh their options with the somberness a new Constitution deserves.
What we would like to see is non-partisan and non-biased education, perhaps conducted in public barazas as mentioned earlier. I am sure the majority of media outlets would only be too glad to play their role in televising such debates.
Secondly, it has pained me to hear some of the outright lies being peddled to the public to purposely misrepresent the Constitution. Today, if you tell lies about another person in a public forum, that person will more than likely sue you for libel and damaging his character and reputation.
With all these commissions in place, I wonder isn’t there anything that can be done to ensure that the public is not purposely misled?
All in all, we have learned and are still learning powerful lessons in the quest for a new Constitution. Truth be told, if the process of democracy is ever to be fair and representative in Kenya, there is need to implement tough regulations that make it difficult for vested interests to manipulate the laws and the justice system in their favour.