By LUKOYE ATWOLI
Sunday Nation 23 May 2010
Even as the Independent Interim Electoral Commission was announcing that the official campaign period for the referendum would begin on July 13 and end on August 2, the opposing Yes and No camps had already embarked on the campaign trail.
In the past two weeks, they have held large campaign rallies at Uhuru Park to campaign for their point of view, and numerous more rallies have been held across the country for the same purpose.
Despite the fact that most people had not had enough time to read and internalise the provisions of the proposed draft constitution, the protagonists immediately went for each other’s jugular.
The No camp embarked on media campaigns and rallies, and clergymen have been using the pulpit to drive their point home.
The Yes group, on the other hand, has been traversing the entire country at times in the guise of civic education, and at other times openly campaigning for the document.
The sum of it all is that as far as the referendum and the quest for a new constitution is concerned, there is a total breakdown of civility in the land. Politicians, clergymen and civil society activists are all engaged in activities that challenge the boundaries of legality in broad daylight.
The tragedy is that both groups believe they are doing Kenyans a favour by crisscrossing the country canvassing for their positions on the proposed draft constitution.
In reality, these so-called “leaders” are doing the institutions of this country irreparable damage, and neither the current constitution nor the proposed one can save us from this amount of impunity.
By ignoring pleas from statutory bodies like the IIEC and the Committee of Experts, all those concerned are passing the message that nothing matters in their quest to have their way.
The irony is that both groups profess that their way will result in a safer, more prosperous country where the rule of law will reign supreme.
The message going out to the ordinary citizen is that legal strictures are meaningless unless they are sponsored or supported by their favourite bigwig, in which case they become sacrosanct and inviolate.
Indeed one will invariably hear the protagonists selectively quote legal provisions their opponents have violated, forgetting to attend to the logs in their own eyes first.
As far as the content of the campaigns is concerned, both sides are guilty of distortions of various provisions in the proposed draft. The Yes camp has magnified the sections they consider good, embellishing them beyond recognition.
They have painted the post-referendum period as one in which Kenya will be comparable to the Garden of Eden, and nobody will need to work since the state will spread its largesse to all corners of the land.
This distortion needs to be corrected and tempered with the necessary injunction that, even after the referendum, nothing will change unless all Kenyans re-dedicate themselves to the task of making sure that they create a better future for posterity.
As for the various No camps, multiple distortions are being peddled to serve their peculiar interests. The clergy are running around claiming that the draft promises “practically unlimited abortions on demand” and entrenches “Sharia Law” in the constitution.
Others in the No group are claiming that should the draft pass, people living on small pieces of land will lose them in the interest of setting a “minimum acreage of private land”.
Extreme examples of distortion include assertions that the draft allows the security forces to go on strike, picket and riot like ordinary citizens, setting the ground for a possible mutiny and even coup.
The drafters of the referendum law must have had just this scenario in mind when they set aside time for civic education. They must have known that no matter how good the draft ended being, there would still be people opposed to it.
These individuals would conceivably do everything in their power, including peddling falsehoods and distortions, to see it fail at the referendum.
In their wisdom, they must have set aside time for education of the masses to counter propaganda from both sides of the divide and ensure that the draft passes or fails solely on its own merit.
This noble objective is now unlikely to be met with any degree of success due to the ongoing disinformation campaigns compounded by delays in the release of the funds necessary for the programme.
This being the case, it is pointless for the IIEC to allow so much time for a fruitless exercise, and even more time for further campaigns when we all know that the product will only be lies, lies and more lies.
An accelerated referendum schedule would have served Kenyans better than the current spectacle of unending campaigns.
Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine