As the clamor for a plebiscite proposed by CORD and the COG reaches fever pitch, many arguments have been thrown around regarding its timing. The proponents argue that it is easier to bend a tree while it is still young and after all, the tree called constitution is not so young having recently celebrated its fourth birthday since its promulgation in August 2010. On the other hand, the opponents of the referendum argue that it is too early to start “Mutilating” the constitution. I have a few issues with those backing the latter argument.
For starters, something can only be mutilated if the changes made to it can cause serious damages which will turn out to be totally undesirable. For it to attract the backing of a majority of Kenyans, the architects of the referendum will not only make sure that the changes they propose on the constitution are popular and desirable to the people, but they will also ensure that the changes are or seem to be necessary. They know that without doing this, the referendum will be stillborn. So, in the event that the referendum sails through, the constitution will only be better and more favorable to Kenyans, than it is now, rather than being mutilated.
Secondly, what is the ideal timing for amending the constitution? Those who have issues with the timing should not only lament about how early it is but should be fair enough to tell Kenyans when the right time for a referendum on amending a constitution should be. Abraham Lincoln once said that “You cannot escape the responsibility of tomorrow by evading it today.” And Pablo Picasso had this to say about postponing issues, “Only put off until tomorrow what you are willing to die having left undone” There are several examples of constitutions that were amended as early as within the first six months after their making, including that of the United States of America. It is obvious that those saying that it is too early to change the constitution don’t have a specific time that they consider to be ideal for such an exercise. If your tooth is aching, the best thing to do is to see a dentist who will decide whether to do a filling or pull it out all together. The dentist here is the voter and obviously, there is never a better timing when it comes to seeing a dentist. It is one of those things that you would rather deal with and get over with as soon as possible.
Thirdly, does the call for a referendum have a political agenda? YES. Is this a problem? NO. Only a politically naïve person will think that the clamor for a referendum at this point in time doesn’t have any political connotation. Careers will be made or destroyed depending on which side individual politicians take and this will, most likely, end up being a referendum on the Jubilee government as well. Those who emerge as victors in the outcome of the referendum will definitely shape the near future politics of the country, especially the 2017 general elections. The antagonists of the referendum have, now and again, argued that the referendum is a ploy by the opposition coalition, CORD, to keep the current government occupied and stop it from implementing its development agenda. The last time I checked, the COG did not belong to the opposition and, unfortunately, it is not the job description of any opposition party to give the government of the day easy time or aid it in implementation of its promises to the people. In fact, any opposition party worth its salt must give those in power sleepless nights.
I learnt in the Political Science 101 class that, the main agenda of any political party is to try to capture and keep political power using all legal avenues that it can possibly lay its hands on. If a referendum can help the opposition coalition to gain political power, then the coalition has every right to pursue the referendum. It is not the work of the current government to tell voters that a referendum is not good for them. I believe the voters are intelligent enough to make the right choice; hence it is their decision to make.
Lastly, a referendum push fronted by governors and the opposition, but opposed by the JUBILEE government will be one hell of a bruising political contest. Contrary to what some people would want us to believe, political contests like referanda are very healthy in any country, if conducted well, because they bring some burning issues to a conclusive closure. Plus, any government needs a formidable opposition to keep it on its toes. The jubilee government was starting to get too comfortable and complacent; more often than not, none other than the Jubilee politicians criticized the opposition for being toothless and unable to perform its duties. The impunity and arrogance from those in power was beginning to go overboard and I think this government needed something with the magnitude of a referendum to shock it back to reality.
The public outbursts exhibited by the Jubilee principals and the likes of Adan Duale are enough evidence that the calls for a referendum are beginning to take their toll and those in power are getting jittery. The argument that a referendum will stop the Jubilee government from delivering its promises to the people is so lame. After all those in power have shown that they can handle serious side shows like the ICC cases very well while governing at the same time. I remember some time back, when asked how they would possibly govern while attending to the ICC cases, William Ruto said that it is not hard to chew a gum while scaling the stairs. I hope the same applies for the referendum and hence they have no reason to complain.