Mutahi Ngunyi: Why MPs should stop the referendum

This is a letter to Members of Parliament. Greetings and a good Sunday! I write to you for one reason: You must stop the referendum. You must review the law that created the ‘‘rushed’’ reforms. This is our last chance at peace; maybe our last chance at a negotiated constitution. I am compelled by three considerations.

First, I will quote from a book about the ‘‘fall’’ of Lebanon. It is a ‘‘cookbook’’ on how to destroy nations. The book is entitled The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable. And the author is Nassim Nicholas Taleb. Using history, he shows how civilisations and nations are extinguished. All you need is a moment of national blindness and a passion for an idea. Passion and blindness equal destruction. Then destruction acquires a life of its own. What started like a silly joke begins to burn and can burn for years to come. And this is what happened in Lebanon.

The adults told Mr Taleb that the war was “... going to end in a matter of days”. They therefore waited in hotel rooms in Cyprus, Greece and France for the war to end ‘‘tomorrow’’. It lasted 17 years. The same happened to Cuba. During the 1960s, the Cuban refugees in Miami lived with suitcases still half packed. They believed they would return in a ‘‘matter of days’’. They are still in Miami 50 years after the Castro revolution.

Mr Taleb’s point therefore is this: War is unpredictable. Even war that has ‘‘ended’’ can cook from the underground for years. And this is why I write to you as MPs.

The Peace Accord did not end our war. It was a ceasefire document. Instead of burying our differences dead, it buried them alive. Now they are boiling from the underground, simmering in the dark. And as they boil, we are in a state of national blindness. We are in a spell. But what is worse: We are both passionate and blind. This is why the referendum has generated nothing but heat. Only 10 per cent understand the constitution according to the polls.

The others have not read it; do not understand it, or are indifferent. They are passionate about it, but blind. If Mr Taleb is right, this is a recipe for war. I write to you therefore to ask a question: What is the point of having a new constitution and dividing the country? We are still at war. And the experiments in this draft can only add fuel to the fire.

Two, our country is invaded. Unofficially, we are now a Protectorate of America; an informal colony of President Obama. From Kofi Annan to Moreno-Ocampo; the visits by Hilary Clinton to Joe Biden, the trend is now clear. This is an army of occupation. And its mission is what Tanzanians would call ‘‘Ukoloni mamboleo’’ (neo-colonialism). You must therefore tell ‘‘cousin Obama’’ the following: Back off. His father was one of us. And as the ‘Nation of his Father’, we are a proud people. Very proud. You patronise us, we get violent. This is why the Biden trip was a disaster. We resisted the man, his polemics and his goodies. We will not pass the constitution to get American money. Not worth it! We will do it for our children and their children whether ‘‘cousin Obama’’ will be in power or not!

In sum, you must liberate us from this foreign naiveté. And you must do so by first asking the following: What is their interest in this constitution? What are they sneaking backdoors? These questions must be asked with two considerations in mind. The first refers to Article 2(6) of the draft. It translates all International Treaties we have signed into local law. This is a clever invasion without sending Mr Joe Biden. The second has to do with the rushed process of passing this draft. Why the rush? Remember that the ‘‘rushed reforms’’ came with Mr Annan. All his reforms, from the Waki List to the implementation of this draft, have been rushed. Why? You must stop this.

My last point regards the errors in the draft constitution. Some people have identified 93 errors, I have identified 101 errors. This makes the draft illegitimate by any standards. If it passes, these errors cannot be corrected administratively by the Attorney-General. In fact, it would be illegal for him to do so. To correct them, you will have to institute a process of minimum constitutional reforms. In one of the errors (Article 20(3)(b), you will need a referendum because it is in the Bill of Rights. My question to you therefore is this: why go on with a process that is faulty? Why give us a half-baked constitution and constipate us politically? Some of you purport to speak for Kenyans. And you have told us that it has taken 20 to 25 years to do this review process. But one university student told me that he is 26 years old.

He further told me that 65 per cent of the country is 25 years and below, while 73 per cent is below the age of 30. His observation therefore was this: If 65 pc of the country is below 25 years, those making the constitution for 25 years must be in the minority. In fact, he called them political dinosaurs. Worse still, if 73 pc of the country is below 30, none of them has been involved in this ‘‘romantic’’ struggle for a new constitution. This is, therefore, a struggle by dinosaurs, between dinosaurs, to produce a dinosaur constitution.

Back to the author from Lebanon, the country went to war. We did not resolve the reasons why. Now the war has gone underground. On the surface, the country has a passion for the constitution. But this passion is blind. To build an experimental constitution on a fragile peace is to invite war. You must therefore give us leadership by stopping the referendum. The principals will not do it. They are spell bound.

Only you can review the law that created these ‘‘rushed reforms’’. And if you do it, you will open up new avenues for dialogue and healing. But can you? My challenge goes to the cowardly GEMA MPs. You are “Yes” in the day, “No” in the night. This is your chance to be counted!

Mutahi Ngunyi is a political scientist with The Consulting House, a policy and security think-tank for the Great Lakes region, West and Southern Africa.

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