Thirteen years ago, this country went through its first multiparty elections. It was one of the most tense moments in the life of this country. The elections were held in the backdrop of the detention of multiparty advocates, politically sponsored land clashes in which more than 6,000 people died, and some of the worst electoral violence this country has ever witnessed.

The people hoped to vote out a regime that had become intolerant and that had turned the country into a police state. The people lost. In an election widely condemned as massively rigged, the regime of ex-President Moi remained in power. Anger and resentment was the national mood. Even the most optimistic of us foresaw this country collapsing into mayhem. It didn’t. Nor did it five years later when Kenyans lost a second opportunity to rid themselves of a regime that had impoverished them.

Three years ago, we went through another similarly tense period. We had on one side the same regime now facing an imminent electoral defeat, and on the other, a population that had finally sensed imminent victory. Both sides were literally fighting for their lives. The Moi regime was unsure of the security of its henchmen after relinquishing power and all indications were that the victors would avenge the years of repression they had undergone.

The majority of the people, on the other hand, were calling for that revenge and swearing to march to State House if the Moi regime did not relinquish power. As in 1992, we seemed destined for mayhem. It didn’t happen. The people won, ex-President Moi relinquished power, and not a single Kenyan died.

We have now forgotten both the elections of 1992 and 2002 and have moved on. We went through another tense moment at the Bomas conference and overcame that too. Today, we go to the polls faced by yet another period of tension.

Looking at the past, one does wonder where we got the idea that this referendum has divided us to the point that we actually contemplate chaos. Can we be more divided than we were in 1992? Can we be more animated than we were in 2002? Can the stakes be higher than they were in the two elections?

The lessons we must learn from our past is that we are actually more united and more politically mature than we give ourselves credit for. Despite expecting an explosion of violence this weekend as the two opposing camps held parallel rallies in the city, there was none.

Why didn’t the two sides go for each others throats? When we lost the 1992 election, didn’t we wait 10 years and suffered a second electoral loss before we could say “bye bye” to Moi? When Moi drove into that charged crowd at Uhuru Park to hand over power, how come we didn’t let out our frustrations on him?

The problem with this country has never been its people. We are not Rwanda or Burundi. We are not Somalia. We have one of the world’s most diverse ethnic spectrum, yet we are one of the world’s most peaceful countries. We have surprised even ourselves at how quickly we have moved from total repression to total freedom without becoming lawless.

The problem with this country has always been our politicians. They say things in our name that make us wonder what we ever did to justify them. We hear “The people will not accept!”, “The people are divided” and “The people will take to the streets”. But we have no history that can be the basis of such remarks. In fact, whenever there is fear that Kenyans will fight each other, it is the same Kenyans who are the first to run away from the “fight”. These matters are never in our minds. They are put there by politicians.

This is the most important fact we must have in mind as we face the future after the referendum. We as citizens have no problem with each other. From our past, it is evident that we are never divided by our divergent opinions. We have never resorted to violence to vent our frustrations. It is our politicians who are intolerant of each others’ opinions. It is our politicians who speak of violence.

The common Kenyan is going to accept the results of this referendum. No common Kenyan has gone around threatening to reject the results if his or her side loses. No common Kenyan feels separated from his or her fellow Kenyan. All these are assumptions made in their name. Only the politicians can make us fight each other. So, it is the politicians we must address regarding life after the referendum.

Firstly, we must ask them to remember that this is our decision. Whether Yes or No, it is us Kenyans who are speaking. The Swahili word for “referendum” aptly describes what this is about – kura ya maoni. This is not a competition between politicians. It is a tally of the opinions of all Kenyans desirous of taking a stand over the Constitution. Kenyans are not expressing these opinions on behalf of anyone else.

Secondly, we must tell our politicians that we Kenyans have no hidden agendas. We go to the polls for the sole purpose of expressing our opinion on the proposed Constitution. We do therefore hope that the politicians will feel obliged to consult us before making any inflammatory statements and issuing ultimatums in our name. Indeed, the very fact that we have had to be consulted about our views on the proposed Constitution makes it an imperative that no politician should ever again speak on our behalf on any issue of great import without bothering to find out what we think.

Lastly, we must tell our politicians that regardless of the outcome of this referendum, we have just experienced the most significant democratic process since the self-government elections of 1963. Then, we had the Kenyan people elect a government of their choice for the first time. Today, we go through the first referendum in our history. It is the most empowering democratic process since independence.

From today, every politician must consult us directly before making any major decision on our behalf. Let no politician water down our achievement by telling us to express our opinion about the results of the poll in illegal ways. We have come a long way as a peaceful and united people.

Mr Mwangi is a lawyer practising in Nairobi.