Finally, Kenyans have spoken and given their verdict on the Draft Constitution. There are many questions to ask and it will take several months to unravel the different lessons there are to learn from the results. But possibly the best place to start is by looking at what the results say about where we have come from.
The results from Nairobi are particularly illuminating. In 1992, when Mr Kenneth Matiba ran for the presidency, he controlled the voting patterns in Nairobi. So complete was his control that votes were cast on the basis of his party and candidates were elected to Parliament and city council because they were Ford Asili members, then headed by Mr Matiba.
Many losers were later to remark that even if a dog stood for elections on a Ford Asili ticket, it would have won. But the voting patterns were decided by much more than the political party. Ethnicity proved to be a critical factor. Mr Matiba did command the ethnic loyalty of the majority of the voters in Nairobi.
Voting patterns in the city
The results of the referendum reversed these ethnic voting patterns in the city. Even the constituencies whose results were almost a foregone conclusion returned a verdict contrary to expectations.
One positive development was clear from these results: Kenyans were beginning to overlook ethnicity when making political decisions. This thesis is evident from the voting patterns in other areas. Baringo East was an unexpected result as the vote was split down the middle. Coast Province also ignored its political leadership even in Kisauni where ethnicity had been a crucial factor in the by-elections.
Though ethnicity counted among the large communities, it did not take away from the fact that there was a change of attitude in areas previously inclined to ethnic considerations.
A second positive was the peaceful manner in which the poll was conducted. Apart from two incidences in Kayole and Kibera later on the day of the poll, there was not a single ugly incidence all over the country. The tension of the campaigns was forgotten as the voters met at polling stations to cast their ballot.
Mr Joseph Kamotho walked to his polling station without any fear as did Mr Raphael Tuju. All the acrimony of the campaigns was forgotten and everyone’s democratic right to cast a ballot was respected.
It seems that the pre-referendum activities were not what there was to worry about. It is the post-referendum issues that we must grapple with. For a start, there is urgent need to translate the results of the referendum into a correct message. What have the people said? Now that the draft constitution has been rejected, what would the people want done? Do we re-enact another constitutional amendment Act and start the process all over again? Shall we achieve a consensus this time round?
Answering these questions is probably going to be the trickiest challenge of our post-referendum life. For one, there is the lurking danger of reading the wrong message. There is also the second danger of reading our own messages into the outcome. Every politician is bound to interpret the outcome of the referendum in the way that best suits his or her political strategy.
Whatever the interpretation, the guiding aim should be to consolidate the gains made so far and not to revert us back to the turbulent 90’s. And there are several gains to consolidate. First, the political maturity we have exhibited must be nurtured into a culture. When we look at the chaos that accompanied the elections in Ethiopia and Zanzibar recently, it is apparent that we are steps ahead. We should not therefore descend into their way of dealing with challenges as we will only create a culture of violence instead.
Second, we have taken 15 years to reach the referendum. Some will be tempted to create a “here and now” situation in which instantaneous alternatives towards another constitutional debate will be sought. In the process, impatience will be advocated and protests promoted. We must be wary of spending the next few years doing nothing else but agitating for a new process. This would be the most inopportune time to put further debate on top of the list of national priorities.
Knowledge and reasoning
But possibly the greatest gain we need to consolidate is the new culture of making decisions out of personal choice. During this referendum, we had a chance to read the draft constitution and to make our respective decisions based on how we understood its impact on us. We had to make choices based on knowledge and reasoning.
Though some refused to read the draft constitution, one hopes that we could develop this exercise and inculcate it into our politics. Possibly some time in the future, political parties will be judged on the basis of the contents of their manifesto. Politicians will possibly be elected only if they have a credible plan of how to assist their constituents.
This may sound wishful thinking when one looks back at our previous elections. But the exercise we have just undertaken is rare in other parts of Africa. Seeing campaigners going around the country reading to the public in political rallies was a spectacular political phenomenon. It should not be let to die. It is from such an exercise that our people will develop a culture of literacy, where they rely less on rumours and insist on finding out the truth for themselves. I doubt there is a country in Africa that has managed to develop such a populace but I don’t see why we cannot be the first.
Mr Mwangi is a lawyer practising in Nairobi