As expected, the campaign for a national referendum spearheaded by the Kenya opposition Coalition for Reforms and Democracy (CORD), is generating a lot of political heat.
According to the constitution, one-million eligible voters must acquiesce to the plebiscite before any parliamentary debate can commence. Thus, in the past two weeks, the opposition group has pitched camp in various parts of the country to get Kenyans to append their signatures to a petition that will form the basis for amendments to the constitution, passed overwhelmingly by Kenyans in 2010.
CORD wants Kenyans to agree to go to the polls and decide on crucial matters that appear to directly question the performance of the Jubilee government of Uhuru Kenyatta and William Ruto. These matters include the state of insecurity, corruption, the rising cost of living, nepotism, and poverty. Unfortunately, the two sides are locked in a debilitating rivalry and seem to disagree on everything.
The proposed vote is the biggest opposition activity since its defeat in 2013, and CORD leader, Raila Odinga, is pulling all punches to ensure the group not only attains the signature threshold but that the referendum takes place.
However, this activity is turning out to be divisive on both sides of the political divide. It has polarised CORD between those of its elected leaders and members who want the referendum to take place, and those who oppose it; and has punched holes in the unity of the Jubilee fraternity.
The situation is so convoluted that both Raila and Uhuru have warned rebel elected members in their parties to resign and seek fresh mandates if they refuse to toe their party lines. Although resignations are unlikely, the exercise will undoubtedly change the political matrix come the next elections in 2017.
But what worries me most is how the referendum calls are stoking embers of ethnic and political divisions, and attempting to create another front in the fragmentation of the country, already suffering from a chronic bout of tribalism and clanism. There are dangers the plebiscite will balkanise the country into quarelling fiefdoms and trigger a new convulsion of violence
With the political fever heating up, the tensions we saw prior to the 2007 elections are fermenting once again. My fear is that at some point they will explode plunging Kenya into a quagmire of destruction, This is sad considering the high hopes Kenyans had for their future.
This means too that plans by the Jubilee government to propel the country from a bottom-rated position into a middle-level industrialised nation in the next few years now appear in danger of evaporating.
Unfortunately to some, the prevailing political uncertainties are a boon to their personal ego; and an opportunity to chest-thump and plant seeds of what they like to call a “peoples’ revolution.”
But when bullets, arrows and machetes start to fly, the sufferers will not be the leaders who have the resources to make a quick escape aboard private choppers, but the majority of Kenyans who have neither the means nor an alternative place to go – apart from occupying refugee camps across the borders.
CORD must keep this in mind.
Joe Khamisi is a former journalist, diplomat and Member of Parliament. He is also the Author of the Politics of Betrayal:Diary of a Kenyan Legislator, a political memoir about the situation in Kenya between 2001, when the ruling party of President Daniel Arap Moi, the Kenya African National Union (KANU), merged with Raila Odinga’s National Development Party.
The book also narrates cases of corruption in Parliament and in the Media and records Senator Obama’s visit to Kenya in 2006. As a friend of Barack Obama Senior, the author also remembers the times and tragedies of the American-educated economist.
Joe Khamisi’s second book, a biography, ‘Dash Before Dusk’, is currently awaiting publication.
In addition to the above books, Joe Khamisi blogs at http://joekhamisi.wordpress.com/ , http://joekhamisi.blogspot.ca/ and for media enquiries can be reached at [email protected]
(This article is courtesy of Joe Khamisi and was originally published at the above blog on 7th September 2014)