Why JubIlee Needs To Collect Signatures
Media reports inform us that Cord’s Okoa Kenya initiative has already collected 1.4 million signatures. I do not believe these numbers, but unfortunately my credence or lack thereof does not matter. This is politics, and perception is king. Whichever numbers the coalition declares at the end of this undertaking will be hard to challenge. This is especially so because Cord has already told the world that they do not trust the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, the only body with a mandate to audit their signatures. I can already imagine Cord’s reaction should the IEBC report that such an audit shows most Okoa Kenya signatures are fake.
So, in another week or two the coalition’s leadership will report they have five million signatures. They will then immediately posture as legitimate of the people these five million silent Kenyans souls have mandated to speak on their behalf. Meanwhile Jubilee will be struggling to overturn Cord’s position, without success. As I have explained above, Cord has already pre-empted the only legal way to challenge their signatures.
But all is not lost.
First, Jubilee needs to understand that the reason Cord is able to collect signatures, genuine or not, is because this exercise has political ramifications for grassroots political leaders. The MCAs, MPs, senators and governors would give an arm and a leg to have a list of voters in their respective wards, constituencies or counties showing names, ID numbers, polling station and contact details, or stop such a list from falling into the hands of their competitors. Okoa Kenya therefore kills two birds with one stone — it builds Cord’s national referendum drive, and allows grassroots politicians to collect and ring-fence crucial political data in readiness for the 2017 elections.
To deal with this, Jubilee should launch their own ‘Okoa Katiba’ signature collection campaign; a drive diametrically opposed to Okoa Kenya. Jubilee can present Okoa Katiba as a petition to show that majority of Kenyans do not want their constitution mutilated by failed power-hungry politicians. (Jubilee, I am sure, can easily come up with five ‘general reasons’ that this group of Kenyans can append their signatures under).
The power of Okoa Katiba is that it will achieve three main objectives. One, it will give Kenyans who do not want a referendum a platform to say so publicly. Two, it will provide Jubilee with its own mechanism of collecting crucial political data; something that is especially useful in how Jubilee identifies who to work with in regions that are currently considered opposition strongholds, in preparation for 2017. Finally, it will introduce an accountability dimension for the signatures Cord is reporting. If Cord claims one million signatures in a county that has 1.5 million registered voters and Jubilee registers one million signatures opposing the referendum in that same county, then someone is lying.
Alternatively, Jubilee can seriously consider a structured national dialogue on the governors’ issues. The President recently spoke of his availability for such a process, which Cord took as a sign that he is capitulating to their pressure. The President first needs to clarify that he is still not interested in political dialogue, only on such dialogue that helps Kenya move beyond the current socio-developmental impasse that is holding us captive to political manipulation. He stated that such dialogue must happen within recognised institutions and with the Council of Governors being an institution recognised in the constitution, speaking with them is not a reversal of his earlier position.
The wind behind the referendum drive is ‘pesa mashinani’, which is why Cord has cleverly hijacked the slogan from the governors’ own plebiscite drive and tied it to their Okoa Kenya initiative. Jubilee can neutralise this wind by genuinely engaging the CoG on their issues on money. It is also quite clear that only one or two governors actually want a referendum. Most understand it will interrupt their own capacity to deliver on what they promised their respective counties and open up avenues for challengers to position themselves for 2017 — exactly the same position the President is in nationally.
My suggestion is that the Presidency and the CoG put in place a team of four experts from each institution, with a working mandate of developing a framework for national dialogue on ‘pesa mashinani’ issues. This team can then identify any possible compromise areas that will allow each side a dignified exit from their current antagonistic positions, and allow them to close ranks against a referendum. Once this happens, Cord’s Okoa Kenya is dead.
Ngunjiri Wambugu is the director of Change Associates, a political communications consultancy.