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Yes or No – Kenyans will lose

Ah, we love our campaigns, don’t we! Look at the energy with which our politicians are racing across the country, caps, T-shirts and posters in hand. Look at the enthusiasm with which the crowds are turning out to brandish bananas and ogle oranges. There is only one conversation taking place in Kenya today: are you “Yes” or are you “No”? Such zestful activity! Yes, the circus is back in town, but the clowns are mainly in the audience.

Consider this: as we conduct our multi-billion-shilling referendum, a new United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) report suggests that Kenya has actually declined in terms of human development in recent years. We are now ranked 154th (out of 177) in the UN’s human development index. Uganda has left us behind. We thought we were an advanced economy, but we sit at the same table as the Nigers and the Chads. Development of our human capital is arguably the greatest challenge facing us a country – but we’d rather focus on the fun and games of a political campaign.

Consider this: the government announced this week that, yet again, large numbers of Kenyans face famine. Yet again, this is blamed on the failure of the rains. Yet again, a minister organises a hurried congregation of donors over a nice breakfast to plead for foreign assistance, even as we spend billions on campaigns for oranges and bananas. The irony is apparently lost on all concerned; the poverty of ideas grows unchecked. See you here at the same time next year when the rains “fail” again. We seem to have no way of preventing the annual starvation of our people – but we’d rather focus on the fun and games of a political campaign.

What exactly are we voting for, people? Ostensibly for something quite monumental: the safeguarding of our fundamental rights as a people in the form of a new constitution. So it’s very important, this vote. But let me ask again: what exactly are we voting for, people? The fact is, the politicians have turned this seemingly critical exercise into a complete fiasco. Kenya now stands to lose, whichever way you vote. How so?

If you carry a banana with you on referendum day and vote “yes”, you will be approving a deeply flawed document. The Wako draft has shirked many responsibilities. It has run away from advancing any meaningful sharing of executive power, and has allowed a future president and a few compliant MPs to make all the key decisions. It has baulked at the prospect of true devolution of power. It allows politicians in Nairobi to still wield all the power and decide on the lives and livelihoods of millions. So, if the yes-men win, a major opportunity to make structural changes that could shape our future will have been lost. Who wants that?

If oranges are your only fruit and you will vote an emphatic “no”, you will be rejecting what is, by and large, a progressive document that enshrines many new things: the fundamental rights and freedoms of all Kenyans; enlightened treatment of minorities; the basis for meaningful land reform; environmental protection. You will be voting to take us back to square one, many billions of shillings later. The future of the review process will be thrown into doubt, and we will be saddled with the bad old independence constitution for an indeterminate period. Who wants that?

So this is what our leaders have done to us, dear Kenyans: they have placed us between a rock and a hard place, where we are contemplating the devil on one side and the deep blue sea on the other, and being asked to make Hobson’s choice. Whichever way the vote goes, Kenyans will lose. The only winners will be a few politicians. If you vote for the banana, you will be voting for a bunch of elitist schemers and manipulators whose preferred strategy is to throw money around to obtain their preferred result. If “yes” wins, we will still be in the hands of liver-jugglers.

If you go with the orange, on the other hand, you will be siding with a crew of rabble-rousers who specialise in spreading misinformation. Many, if not most, of the nay sayers will be doing so because they have been mislead into thinking that this constitution will: (a) Bring Sharia law to Kenya; (b) Allow homosexual marriage; (c) Enshrine abortion in law. So you will be voting with the most reactionary elements of society, under a cloud of misconception. If “no” wins, we will have given victory to political mercenaries.

Great choice, isn’t it? Maybe you should just stay home, and not bother to vote? Ah, but then you would be forgoing your electoral right to have a say in this matter, and will become the victim of other people’s decisions. So there you go: vote “yes” – you lose. Vote “no” – you lose. Don’t vote – you lose. In all three cases, politicians win. Now you know why this whole damn thing was taking so long: you were being set up as the sucker in a lose-lose-lose game.

It could have been so different, but we allowed the politicians to take over. Look away from their faces and their words. Those making pious noises about the rights of the people and the sanctity of the Bomas draft are the very ones who were overseeing brutal tyranny not so long ago. Those waxing eloquent about why power-sharing cannot work in Kenya are on record as vehemently advocating the same when they were in opposition. Can you trust any of these people? Only as far as you can throw them.

Why are we in this impasse? Because we are mostly poor and illiterate. Why else would a few people in large offices be able to play with us at will? The irony is: a populace that is functionally illiterate in the matter is being asked to pronounce on the suitability of an entire legal document, one that a constitutional lawyer would have some difficulty deciphering. And it is being asked to do this by focusing on a banana and an orange.

Our politicians have great fun at our expense. Look at them as they go out in convoys of dozens of top-of-the-range vehicles, waving bits of fruit at us. Observe as they peddle lies at rallies, making us believe that the proposed constitution is either Kenya’s salvation or the work of Satan. They come alive in campaigns as they work the crowds and give out goodies. Who pays for it all? In case you were in any doubt, let me clear that up for you: you pay. You are the sucker in this game, the clown in the audience, after all; who else did you imagine would foot the bill? This is all coming out of your taxes, your lost opportunities and your vanquished hopes.

And so we march on to judgement day to hear if it’s yay or nay. Whatever the outcome, we will emerge more divided than ever, filled with more hatred than before, and (of course) still poor and illiterate. Wake me up when it’s all over.

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