Why Kenya must pass referendum now to avert disaster later



By Dr Noah Akala (M. B. Ch. B, MBA)

A wise (wo)man once said, “there is nothing new under the sun!” In this same regard, the myriad of challenges that Kenya is facing in the transition from the old constitutional dispensation to the new are not unique to this Republic. Ranging from lack of political will to questionable capacity, the bottlenecks come thick and fast, one after the other. A quick study of modern African history reveals overlapping parallels with other jurisdictions. A good example are the socio-political similarities we share with Liberia.

While we have been fortunate as a country not to have suffered a civil conflict to the same extent as the Land of the Liberated did, we have not entirely escaped the pang of bloodshed in our national past. The stain of the 2007/2008 Post Election Violence still blots the otherwise progressive story of Kenya. This, however, pales in comparison to Liberia that has endured two civil wars most recently between 1999 to 2003. This bloody conflict was brought to an end following the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement stewarded by the United States Institute for Peace. Students of Kenyan politics will draw a parallel between this social contract and the Koffi Annan mid-wifed National Accord and Reconciliation Act.

Both bore a peaceful resolution to the political conflicts that prompted their drafting. Both documents, in my view, are also the most relevant to the modern day context of Africa ever developed. My reason for saying so is simple. Both took an in depth (and eerily similar) view as to the raison d’être as to why the conflicts erupted in the first place. The Kenyan Accord laid out glaring electoral malpractice, perceived judicial rot and societal inequity as key contributors to the spark that lit the flame. The Liberian Agreement identified similar issues in their society alongside a strong feeling of ethnic disenfranchisement and economic marginalization from the embers of their civil war.

Both documents prescribed a consensus-based political cure to the ills set out in the preamble; what were laid out as Agenda Four items in our Accord were detailed in elaborate form in the Decentralization and Devolution roadmap for Liberia. The only difference is that the Liberian context took into consideration the consequences of failing to implement their national resolutions. That is what we have failed to do as a nation.

The current administration haughtily took over the reins of power following the controversial Supreme Court ruling arising from the contested March 4th polls making it clear to their electoral adversaries that the game was up and it was their proverbial “turn to eat.” Since then, the frequency with which we hear it said by TNA/URP top honchos that this is a Jubilee Government and not a Kenyan one serves as an illustration of the attitude adopted by those entrusted with leadership. The President’s dismissal of the recent call for dialogue by the Opposition further entrenched this perception among the 5 million Kenyans who voted for CORD that not only are they electoral losers but are now voiceless tenants in their own homeland. This return to politics of exclusion and marginalization is exactly what took Kenya to the brink in 2007 and what tipped Liberia over in 1999. And this is why Devolution must succeed.

This brief analysis of African history is meant to illustrate to the reader the political necessity for a Referendum. The issues brought forth to do with devolution, constitutional commissions, land reform and inequality are so pertinent that they cannot be brushed off with casual promises of legislation. It would be nothing short of irresponsible if we were that laissez-faire with our national destiny. We have to make a deliberate choice as a country to swallow the medicine, as bitter as it may taste to some, so as to ensure complete cure of the ills that have plagued us for the past 50 years since independence.

The writer is a Public Administration masters student at the Kenya School of Government.

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