Sunday, May 9, 2010

Kenya will emerge from referendum stronger

Sunday Nation 09 May 2010

With the publication of the draft constitution on Thursday, progress towards the referendum and possible fundamental change in the way our country is governed has entered a new phase.

A flurry of activities is expected to actualise the referendum and, if the draft constitution is approved, more work lies ahead for Parliament, state institutions and the common citizenry to internalise the provisions of the constitution and make necessary enabling legislation.

As the process moves forward, some are cautioning that if the draft constitution passes as it is, there is a possibility of unrest and even conflict approaching the scale of the last General Election.

Some in the Christian right are insinuating that retention of clauses they are opposed to in the constitution will result in polarisation on various grounds, and that this may form the nucleus for renewed conflict.

Although it is important for all Kenyans to be alert for issues that may cause further damage to the fabric of our fragile state, it should be stated in no uncertain terms that this time there will be no violence before, during or after the referendum.

As fellow Sunday Nation columnist Kwendo Opanga noted last week, we must go to the plebiscite determined to vote Yes for peaceful coexistence, no matter what we vote for in the referendum.

The possibility of violence will be diminished this time by the various factors that have fortuitously converged at this point in our history.

For starters, many politicians and other campaigners on either side of the Yes and No debate are alive to the fact that the country remains under close scrutiny by anti-impunity forces all over the world, and one wrong step may result in very dire consequences for them and their future careers.

The presence of the ICC prosecutor at this point in time also serves as a potent reminder of the fate that awaits the masterminds of so-called “political violence” and their cronies.

Secondly, national institutions such as the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights and the National Cohesion and Integration Commission are assuming high profiles in the run-up to the referendum, and whoever chooses to incite Kenyans to violence again will definitely be noticed, named and shamed.

Even if it is accepted that these commissions are largely toothless bulldogs, the attention they will shower upon potential perpetrators of violent crimes will be enough to deter a significant proportion of them.

Thirdly, if Kenyans have any vestiges of memory left, it will be exceedingly difficult to herd them into monolithic killing machines as happened after the last General Election.

In many areas of this country, the disillusionment following post-election violence has resulted in severe cynicism, ensuring that most people no longer take politicians as seriously as they used to do in the past.

Often, a politician’s utterances are keenly dissected to establish their real implications before any action is taken by the masses.

Two categories

For the politicians and religious leaders, the two categories that are spoiling for a fight over the new constitution, it will serve them well to remember that nothing, however important to them, justifies destruction of property and loss of lives as happened after the last election.

They must engage each other on the basis of ideas, and not by sheer brute strength. Recurrent threats of “mobilising supporters” to reject or accept the draft is reminiscent of militant confrontation rather than honest disagreement on issues.

The truth of the matter is that all protagonists in this contest claim to have the best interests of the nation at heart. None of their proposals should therefore form the basis for a violent confrontation based on disagreements over a few clauses.

Those opposed to this draft will not be especially targeted by the new constitution if it passes. Those supporting it will on the other hand neither be especially favoured if it passes, nor be harmed in any way if it fails.

The only thing that is sure to happen is that some of us will feel bad that our position did not win the day at the referendum.

The mentality that needs to win the day is that no matter which side wins at the referendum, the people of Kenya must emerge more united than divided. This is not the same as advocating a “non-divisive referendum” as some have been suggesting.

Asking for “consensus” before the referendum is tantamount to rejecting the referendum itself, for if there is unanimity there would be no need for a referendum in the first place.

In the final analysis, we can assert with a huge degree of confidence that Kenya will survive this referendum, and we shall emerge from it even stronger to face other challenges facing our republic in the days to come.

Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer, Moi University’s School of Medicine

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