Kenya and the Constitutional Referendum

Kenyans vote today, November 21, on a referendum to a draft constitution that has acrimoniously divided the country. President Mwai Kibaki leads the ‘Yes’ campaign, symbolised by a banana, and the ‘No’ campaign, symbolised by an orange, is made up of several cabinet members including Raila Odinga, the Minister for Roads. Results are expected on November 23; the constitution will be enacted on 12 December, Kenya’s Independence Day, if the Yes campaign wins.

In brief, the draft constitution proposes investing the presidency with greater powers, the main area of contention for the Orange campaign, which favours a constitution where a prime minister shares executive powers with the president. While both the Yes and No campaign have concentrated campaigning around this issue, attention has shifted from other proposals such as the call for radical land reform, the outlawing of gender and other discrimination and the inclusion of clauses providing for affirmative action.

During the campaigning, both sides have accused each of instigating a dirty tricks campaign and at several points, the process has been reduced to heckling including President Kibaki’s notorious outburst when he called the opposition
Wapumbavu” (stupid people) and “Mavi ya kuku” (chicken shit)
. Several people have died in violent clashes in the referendum’s run-up, thus far. Professor Wangari Maathai has called the referendum ‘a farce’ and says she is voting for neither side. What should have been a process that strengthens democracy has been reduced to a race for political prestige rather than a debate on the complex issues in the charter’.

In the weekend preceding the referendum, below is a summary of editorials and commentaries in Kenyan dailies.

Instead of meaningful discussion, the debate around the constitution was side tracked by the introduction of ‘personality contests and other agendas’, says Gitau Warigi in his Sunday Nation (subscription required) commentary. The process leading to the referendum has exposed ’the frightening, ugly face of Kenya that lurks just beneath the surface’ due to the ‘incredible hatred running around disguising itself in the colours of democracy and free speech’.

In the The East African Standard, Chaacha Mwita writes about the historical events that have brought about the need for constitutional reform and states that Kenya ’is a nation at the risk of disintegration’ if the voting tomorrow is not ‘guided by reason and truth in the voting booth’.

The Kenya Times says the results of the vote ’should be the ultimate mark of [the people’s] sovereign authority in charting the destiny of the country’ and whether yes or no, this result ‘must be respected by the two opposing sides’.

Kenyan bloggers have had plenty to say about the draft constitution and the referendum.

In a post entitled Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me where he says voting in the referendum is important for the democratic process, Mentalacrobatics asks Kenyans to ask some important and necessary questions of themselves and of politicians before voting such as ‘whether anyone in this referendum is in it for the Kenyan people’ as he feels the ‘wider, bigger political’ is getting lost.

Keguro creates a neologism – hetero-theocracy – meaning to ‘seemingly acknowledge diversity and difference only to resolve ostensible conflict through recourse to authoritarian paternalism’ and takes issue with specific clauses within the draft constitution that give primacy to Christianity and heterosexuality while appearing to ’support and nurture cultural and ethnic diversity’.

Tony Sisule says the government, with no consultation nor agreement from the people of Kenya, has imposed a draft constitution on Kenyans that is an ’illegitimate product cobbled together by a few people to serve vested interests rather than general good’. He urges Kenyans to vote No.

Kenyan Pundit posts interesting photographs of the referendum process.

Gatua wa Mbũgwa who writes to refute the rumour that the Kenyan government is planning to cancel the referendum as a pre-emptive move against impending defeat in his Gikuyu blog, says President Kibaki has made it clear he wants the referendum to take place. Gatua urges Kenyans to carefully read the draft constitution and to vote according ’to their conscience and how they see fit’.

Writing that she does not ’normally talk about politics’ on her blog, Lois says she has voted Yes and hopes ‘the people of Kenya vote sensibly and vote Yes’.

Migz says the referendum has become so politicised such that he is doubtful on ‘whether the majority of Kenyans will vote based on informed decisions around the constitution’. He sees the comical side of the process and tells a joke about a man who ’went bananas when he found oranges in his fruit salad’.

Stating that she will be voting in the referendum, One African Woman is impressed by how far Kenyans have ‘come as a nation, how much wider the democratic space is now than in times past’ and celebrates ‘the sense of Kenyans engaging more than ever before in determining their future’.

JKE congratulates the Kenya National Commission on Human Rights (KNCHR) for compiling a ‘list of shame’ containing the names of 40 politicians ‘whose derogatory speeches along ethnic and racial lines’ were an incitement to violence during the campaigning and feels ’there’s this big gap between the electorate and their elected representatives’.

Because any amendments or revisions of the constitution will require an extended debate and a one million signatures petition if passed, ‘the elitist lawyers, social activists, foreign-funded NGOs, ivory-towered professors, political retreads and professional nit pickers’ who drafted the constitution have found a way of making money says Orwells_Ghost. His opinion is that ’the taxpayers of Kenya will be funding their endless squabbling’.

Illustrating how the referendum has divided Kenyans along ethnic lines, Kibara writes about a recent visit to a Kenyan online forum where he was shocked to find people he considered friends advocating ‘genocide for all Kikuyus’ because of their alleged support of the Yes campaign and is now proposing a a novel method for resolving ethnic conflict.


  • very informative summary! Thank you.

  • […] Cross posted on Global Voices Online […]

  • Charles Nyambuga

    The referendum once more served to re focus attention to the double question of media’s role in a democracy and its effects which are age old questions in media that havev defied definative answers as researchers have had varying views and results.

  • Charles Nyambuga

    The issue of assassinations have caused alot of turmoil whenever they have occured. They have caused alot of conflicts some of which have been downright tribal like the case of Tom Mboya, Robert Ouko etc God forbid let us not go back to those dark days and of course we can get there. Security situation is already so alarming the Artur saga is unresolved and botched the corrupt ministers are back nobody is being tried for Anglo leasing except the foot men! I wonder whether we care about ethics anymore? What rationale is there in re appointing tainted ministers like Kiraitu and Saitoti while they are yet to be cleared of corruption? aint this going to send the wrong signals for the moral Kenya if there is still any such a thing. This government is a sure disaster with all this blunders.

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