Leaders split on early referendum

Thursday February 27 2020

From left: ODM leader Raila Odinga, former Mbeere South MP Mutava Musyimi and ex-Wundanyi MP Thomas Mwadeghu at Ufungamano House in Nairobi on February 27, 2020. PHOTO | EVANS HABIL | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Positions on whether or not a referendum will be held this year are hardening, with leaders, yet again, telling off Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga, who wants the poll done.

Mr Odinga insists that the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) process, which includes the holding of a plebiscite, will be completed this year.

Led by Amani National Congress (ANC) leader Musalia Mudavadi, the politicians want the process not to be rushed, citing the ongoing validation hearings on the task force report released in November last year.

“I’ve said it before and I will say it again: Kenya must change course. It’s not a matter of if, but when. And it has to be this year. Change is coming through the BBI. We must join hands in this attempt to get our nation back on track,” Mr Odinga said when he addressed former members of Parliament who had gathered at the Ufungamano House in Nairobi.

Early this month, the Orange leader said the BBI rallies and consultations should be completed by next month to prepare the way for a referendum.

Mr Mudavadi described the comments as reckless.


“We take exception to recurrent remarks by sections of the political class that certain paths and outcomes will come out of the BBI within certain timelines, whether Kenyans like it that way or not,” the ANC leader said in a memorandum to the BBI committee.

Senate Majority Leader Kipchumba Murkomen told Mr Odinga to let the country digest the document because “we shouldn’t be in a hurry to go into a referendum before we are sure of what the people want”.

“Let’s not put the cart before the horse. We’re currently listening to the people and we can easily agree on the way forward after that,” the Elgeyo Marakwet senator said.

Mr Murkomen’s National Assembly counterpart Aden Duale said “the least it can take to do a referendum is one-and-a-half years”.

“After the Bill is read for the first time in the National Assembly after being passed by a majority of the county assemblies, the law says it has to take three months for the Bill to mature, a period in which public participation will take place. After that, give it one month for the whole House to debate,” Mr Duale said.

“It will go to the Senate for the same period. And since the time within which the President can take to sign it is not stated, the least time it can take, according to me, is one-and-a-half years, including the three months in the county assemblies.”

The term of the task force led by Yusuf Haji, which was renewed after they presented their report last year, ends in June.

On Thursday, Mr Jeremiah Kioni, who chairs the Constitutional Implementation Oversight Committee (CIOC) in the National Assembly, said the earliest Kenya can hold a referendum is September, if all processes are rushed.

“Without a doubt, we cannot have a referendum by June. That one is out. If the BBI was to take the parliamentary route, it would have been faster, but since the team has shown that they prefer the popular initiative route, then it will take longer,” Mr Kioni said.

Wiper leader Kalonzo Musyoka and Machakos governor and Maendeleo Chap Chap leader Alfred Mutua have separately supported calls for an early referendum, warning that a spillover to 2021 leaves the process open to abuse for 2022 presidential campaigns.

Mr Musyoka wants a referendum question ready by June this year, and a plebiscite by September.

“It’s important to have the amended Constitution in place at least 18 months before the 2022 General Election,” Dr Mutua said.

In the meeting with the former MPs yesterday, Mr Odinga decried what he said was an emerging trend where leaders only sought leadership positions to enrich themselves.

“Theft of public resources is now called hustling. Dividing people along ethnic lines is now called fighting for my people. The sacking of corrupt and incompetent individual is now called targeting our people,” he said.

Mr Odinga said the role of former MPs in and outside decision-making circles is critical.

“Many times you hear Raila is doing or not doing this or that and you may be tempted to believe I am something other than a former MP and leader of my party ODM. The fact is, I’m a former Member of Parliament and you are the real and true colleagues,” he said.

The Former Parliamentarians Association is chaired by former Gatanga MP Humphrey Njuguna, and has more than 500 members.