Referendum a needless expense whose time has not come


German philologist Friedrich Nietzsche once said; “All things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth.”

How about we get down to some truths today? Since Saba Saba when the Opposition launched its 13-point agenda, the word referendum has not left the mouths of Kenyans in every sphere of the society. The Opposition has claimed that a referendum is the only way problems facing Kenyans today can be solved.

The Governors also launched their own referendums agenda that is supposed to enhance devolution. Slowly, we have seen Governors disintegrate in their own circle with those in Jubilee being the first to jump ship with the realisation that the vote is an idea whose time has not arrived.

The Opposition has called its referendum campaign “Okoa Kenya” while the Governors have dubbed theirs “PesaMashinani”. It is time Kenyans interrogated these two campaigns before blindly being thrown under the bus of another campaign, less than two years after the country carried out a General Election.

It is becoming clear that “Okoa Kenya” is a movement similar to that which birthed the Orange Democratic Movement after the 2005 referendum. It is clearly designed to create a political contest between the incumbent and the opposition with the aim of slowing down the government and preparing ground for an early 2017 election contest.

For “PesaMashinani”, it is evident that the principle is guided by the Governors’ desire to ensure devolution works for the purpose it was designed for. Devolution is a great idea that it working so well and Kenyans are seeing the fruits of the 2010 Constitution.

Governors must in the same spirit of ensuring that the Constitution works for Kenyans through devolution look at other avenues without the added expense of a full election-style campaign. They must use the existing institutions which include the Parliament and the County Assemblies to push the devolution agenda.

“PesaMashinani” calls for more money to go to county coffers. While this is something we all wish for, it is also important we audit where we are today and evaluate whether the County Governments all have capacity to handle more functions. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and pretend we have had a problem with county spending. What are we doing to deal with these problems before we take more money “Mashinani”?

The challenges County Governments have faced in the first year of devolution must act as lessons in the learning curve that we must draw solutions from. Already, the counties are facing difficulties in handling the health sector alone. We know that more money would mean we devolve other sectors such as education. Are we sure that this can be handled by the counties? Have we asked the teachers if this system can work for them?

The suggestion by TNA, to have a committee of MPs, MCAs, Senators and Governors interrogate the issues raised by Kenyans is a step in the right direction. It is clear that all avenues have not been exhausted before we move to amend the less than five-year-old Constitution.

Going back to the Opposition, CORD and its leadership must for now be satisfied with this role and look at lobbying its members in the Legislature both in parliament and County Assemblies to tackle its concerns. Kenyans are not ready to close down their businesses and get into campaign trails. Kenyans want service delivery to make their lives better.

Looking at some issues raised by “Okoa Kenya” such as corruption and security, any sober Kenyan will tell you that there exist institutions that can, when well utilised help in dealing with them. Kenyans must also be careful on the dangers that come with security being controlled from several centres.

This opens the security apparatus to abuse. What will stop “rogue” Governors from using security forces as “private armies” against their political rivals and non-supporters? The security function must thus be approached in a more sober manner rather than seeking to have it devolved.

In 2008, we sent the entire electoral commission home because some were not happy in how it had handled the 2007 presidential election. We then through the 2010 Constitution, put in place the IEBC and defined the electoral process that saw the Opposition go to the Supreme Court to challenge the 2013 elections result.

Are we saying that every time that someone loses the presidential election, we have to disband the electoral commission? The issues raised by CORD over IEBC are administrative rather than legal and do not need a referendum unless the Opposition wants a political contest as already established.

In terms of the operations of the IEBC, it is clear there were issues. So how do we improve the structure and systems? If you want a “lean” IEBC, it is as simple as taking a Bill to the National Assembly to amend the Act to reduce the membership from nine to three or five. But is it really about who is there or an overriding desire to have a functional, efficient system in place?

The National Government alongside the National Land Commission is already involved in land reform. We have seen action as witnessed recently with Lamu. Why are we impatient not to see the fruits of the ongoing process and addressing the challenges that may arise?

At the end of the day, we have one country to live in. We have a national government and 47 county governments that must be allowed to work without being distracted with an unnecessary political contest.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

One Reply to “Referendum a needless expense whose time has not come”

  1. Frankly speaking the referendum circus is partially fueled by the desire to sell print and electronic media and this is the current cashcow. I jumped ship after the third para the rest of the story was too predictable.

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