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25 Nov 2005 00:00
‘Kibaki out! Kibaki out!” was the cry on the streets of Kenya as thousands of people celebrated the defeat of a draft Constitution its opponents had branded a ‘recipe for dictatorship”.
A mere three years ago, the same Kenyans, weary of nearly a quarter of a century of authoritarian rule and rampant corruption under Daniel arap Moi, had massed to support Mwai Kibaki with the mantra of ‘Kibaki tosha [forward]!”
But Kenyans have become increasingly disgruntled with the president’s failure to keep his promises to end high-level graft, spiralling crime and high unemployment. Ministers continue to be implicated in corruption scandals, insecurity is rife and the president’s oft-stated desire to create 500 000 additional jobs each year has come to naught.
He also promised a new Constitution, which would include ‘checks and balances” on the Presidency.
In the first referendum ever held in Kenya, almost four million Kenyans voted against the document, with only 2,5-million supporting it.
‘The rejection of the Constitution is a clear sign of no confidence in Kibaki as president,” said William Ruto, a leader of the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) alliance that had urged Kenyans to spurn the draft charter.
Wearing a necklace of oranges, the ODM symbol, Daudi Mohammed sang and danced for hours in a Nairobi street.
Analysts believe Kibaki’s referendum loss could offer a springboard for the presidential ambitions of Public Works Minister Raila Odinga — Kibaki’s fiercest critic.
Kibaki supporters, angered at their embarrassing defeat, urged him to purge ministers who campaigned against the draft. And on Wednesday, Kibaki sacked his entire Cabinet. In a televised speech he indicated that he would announce a new government within two weeks. He could, of course, retain those who’ve been rebelling against him. Analysts say if he doesn’t, it’s likely the ODM will remain united and oppose Kibaki at the polls in 2007.
ODM legal adviser Mutula Kilonzo said: ‘This is an illegal move by the president. Once again, he has demonstrated his willingness to disobey the law. Who is going to run the country for the next two weeks?”
In his reaction Ruto fumed: ‘If ever Kenyans needed proof that we need a new Constitution that negates the power of the Presidency, this is it: that Mr Kibaki can summarily fire his entire government, without consulting a single person, is final and incontrovertible proof that we are living under dictatorship.”
Another ODM leader who spoke to the Mail & Guardian on condition of anonymity on Thursday, acknowledged that Kibaki’s move took the alliance by surprise. ‘We did not expect this, even from Kibaki, who in the eyes of the world was humiliated on Monday. We are going to ask for an urgent meeting with him. We are debating whether to pressure him to call a snap election.”
The former head of Kenya’s Constitutional Review Commission, Patrick Lumumba, said the referendum outcome was, in effect, a ‘repudiation of old-guard politicians”.
‘The young leaders must stand up and take political control. Let us begin a generation of change. The problem with Kenya is that political posts are reserved for people of retirement age,” Lumumba mused.
Kibaki has surrounded himself with ministers from his Kikuyu ethnic group, the largest in Kenya. The vote was also split along ethnic lines.
‘The people have shunned the politics of sycophancy,” was the reaction of Uhuru Kenyatta, leader of the opposition Kenya African National Union.
The resounding rejection was ‘more of a protest vote against the leadership rather than a rejection of a new Constitution”, admitted the spokesperson of the Youth for Yes lobby group, Yvonne Khamati.
The chairperson of Kenya’s Electoral Commission, Samuel Kivuitu, said the referendum wasn’t the end of the Constitution-making process, and Kenyans should continue to strive for a more ‘democratic” law, which protected ‘minorities”.
But, in accepting defeat, Kibaki was adamant that Kenya would remain with the present Constitution, adding that the time had come to focus on ‘development” rather than on a new charter.
Human rights groups warned that campaigning ahead of the referendum had created an atmosphere ‘ripe for violence”. Members of opposing camps flavoured their pre-poll speeches with vitriolic outbursts of hate speech against rival ethnic groups.
As ODM celebrations continued, Mohammed sarcastically mocked Kibaki for branding them ‘stupid” and ‘chicken shit” before the poll.
‘Mr President, you called us ‘stupid’ if we voted against the draft. Who is stupid now? You, or the millions of Kenyans who voted ‘no’? When 2007 comes, we will not forget your words.”
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