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Why what I think about the constitution doesn’t matter

Jun 20, 2010 Leadership, Sunday Nation

Last Sunday Kenya changed for the worse.

As we know, grenades were thrown at a rally held as part of the current constitutional review campaigns. The resulting explosions killed six Kenyans and injured scores of others.

The numbers mislead us. They turn the people who died into mere statistics. Note and turn the page. But can we, really? Six innocent people who merely happened to be standing in the wrong place at the wrong time. That is six sets of hopes vaporised and six families devastated. All because some ruthless and amoral people want to play politics with innocent lives.

This was a very, very dangerous event for Kenya, and I hope our leaders have understood the real dangers. Those explosions might reverberate for years to come if we are not alert. At Uhuru Park last Sunday, it became fair game to bomb a rally for political purposes. If this is not stopped right here, we run many risks. We risk turning religion against religion and province against province. We risk tit-for-tat violence. We risk damaging democracy and the freedom of expression.

For weeks now, readers of this column have been asking me to state my position on the proposed new constitution. Am I ‘Yes’ or ‘No’, ‘Green’ or ‘Red’? I have resisted making any comment. We are already a nation of sheep perpetually waiting to be led, and I have no desire to add to the stock of malevolent shepherds.

I have no idea why it matters to anyone what I, or any other columnist or commentator, thinks about the draft constitution. I have read it, and my views on it are personal. I know very well that more than 9 out of 10 will never read the thing. Of those that do read it, most will escape with the most perfunctory understanding. Yet democracy demands that people vote on it. As things stand, a hundred or so people are going to direct the vote of millions. Is that what democracy was meant to be? Do we follow the will of the majority, or the will of the chosen few?

Have we not done enough damage by being brainless tools who are easily used by the crafty manipulators amongst us? Watch any political rally, and you will see people being whipped into a frenzy by the language and imagery deployed by demagogues. Go and look at IDP camps and see the misery inflicted by mindless mobs who allowed themselves to be mobilised by warmongers. Witness the quality of the average parliamentary debate and see the damage caused to the management of the country by people willing to elect buffoons and charlatans.

All of this happens because we have developed a culture of being led by the nose, shown the way, told what’s right, asked to leave our brains outside when we listen to politicos and padres. We follow our parents, no matter how ignorant and bigoted they are; we follow our teachers, no matter how misguided; we follow our clerics even though they fill our ears with intolerance; we follow our bosses, even when they are self-aggrandising cartoons. And ultimately we follow warlords who tell us that our neighbours are our mortal enemies and our fellow Kenyans the spawn of the devil.

This blind acceptance, this unquestioning faith in others, this refusal to think for ourselves, this wilful dismembering of the brains we have been given – this is our undoing. This nation has danced to the tune of a manipulative elite for decades. The result is poison and hatred, suspicion and mistrust, delusion and ignorance. And now, the result is bombs in Uhuru Park.

So I break my silence on matters constitutional, but only to say this: forget what I, your MP, your pastor, foreign countries, professors all think. All those parties may have enormous vested interests and other agendas. What is important is what YOU think. Read the damn document to the best of your ability, draw your own conclusions, no matter how modest, and vote with your own mind and conscience.

After that we should all accept the will of the majority, no matter how wrong we think it is, and go back to work. It’s a document, people. It’s not something to rip up our country over. It’s not something to incite hatred over. It’s not something to throw bombs over.

So I am not going to tell you how manically YES or hysterically NO I am. All I am going to repeat is that we have to grow up and decide things for ourselves, using our own faculties and experiences of life. And if that does not produce the result we want, we have to live with the wish of the majority. Societies need to tolerate diversity of opinion. Otherwise totalitarianism and fascism awaits in the shadows. Whatever you think about this constitution, don’t accept that threats, hate speech and bombs should be any part of the debate.

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