No, we do not need Raila’s referendum

In 2008, when we all witnessed electoral fraud and murder... he became the powerful Prime Minister, a power he obviously still has much nostalgia for

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By Ahmednasir Abdullahi

Amidst the current political goings on is the forgotten fact that until now, elections in this country have been defined by backroom dealings and constitutional changes aimed at consolidating power for a few individuals. It’s an old script. And while it is romantic to think that that this struggle pits the status quo against the reformers (to paraphrase freedom stalwart Jaramogi Oginga Odinga), the truth is that it is a self-centred game between a few powerful men battling for the control of the vast resources of the State. We like to think of it but there are no statesmen. We like to think of it too but the common man never features anywhere in their deal making. So when they say “the people”, oftentimes it is a political statement to which they’ll toast in laughter when the curtains are drawn.

Why then should we view the changes Raila Odinga is proposing with optimism? Many a time, we have changed our election laws without faring any better as a nation. Even after changes, save for maybe once, isn’t it always in the multiparty era that election outcomes have been legally challenged? Haven’t the ruling elites remained so and the pattern of alliances and fallouts between them the same? Have the changes so far made our elections progressively more peaceful? So why do we keep confusing the selfish plans of a few men for new ground in which the citizen will reign supreme?

Haven’t we seen all these before?

“We have told Electoral Commission of Kenya chairman Justice Zacchaeus Chesoni that unless these cases are dealt with and corrected as soon as possible, we shall be forced to reconsider our participation in an election that has been rigged from start to finish”.

As Babior Newton writes in Raila Conspiracy: The Secrets Behind Denying Him the Kenyan Presidency, this is the threat Raila made in December 1992 in reference to a 13-point proposal on how to conduct free and fair elections opposition parties had presented to the ECK. Haven’t we seen this before? Although Chesoni ceded some ground, most importantly by ensuring the provincial administration did not participate in subsequent elections, a divided opposition still lost.

In 1997, Raila, who had declared his interest in the presidency, voiced his support to reform the electoral commission. In his words, there was need for “rapid institutional reforms prior to and after the election, which included effecting six minimum but sacred constitutional reforms” or else his NDP would join the rest of the opposition to ensure there were no elections. As those present then may recall, the reform movement was ably spearheaded by, among others, James Orengo, with the campaign running on the slogan “no reform, no election”. They will also remember the protests, civil disobedience and the role of the civil society. Again, haven’t we seen this before?

Just like Chesoni in 1992, President Moi ceded some ground, paving the way for the IPPG talks and the appointment of party friendly commissioners. In the long run, Raila lost, finishing third. What’s more, to the utter dismay of his allies, including Orengo and Kijana Wamalwa, he would later join the KANU Government where he used his new found power to influence the appointment of Luo politicians into lofty government positions in the hope that they would help him ascend to power.

This gamble obviously failed. Curiously it was also around this time that the Odinga family gained ownership of the infamous Kisumu Molasses Plant. Does the discarding of Mudavadi, Wetangula and Kalonzo ring any bells?

In 2008, when election fraud had become so obvious and many Kenyans had been murdered, against the advice of William Ruto, Raila led his allies into government. He became the powerful Prime Minister, a power he obviously still has much nostalgia for.

There is a pattern to be seen here. Right or wrong, Raila has always contested election outcomes, formed and broken alliances in pursuit of self-aggrandizement. Throughout the reform struggle, there hasn’t been an attempt at a solution to the electoral crisis that didn’t include Raila making a pitch for the highest seat.

In those times, while he has grown richer and more influential, the same cannot be said of his constituents. Often, his allies have been the casualties of his manoeuvres – which, as Miguna Miguna has severally pointed out, he has done very little to help. While good for the country, joining forces with government is a betrayal of the highest order to those who have believed – even died – for the sake of his reform agenda.

So then we must remember, that when those in power make deals, they do so to ensure that whoever takes over is someone they can trust to protect their interests. When those outside power do so, usually it is with a view of getting a bite of the thing themselves.

The Deputy President’s motive might be unclear, but his logic is certainly sound; we do not need the referendum Raila is proposing! (

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