Elite conspiracies and schemes such as BBI are perennial in our political history. Each time they are couched as absolutely necessary for the very survival of our democracy. Daniel arap Moi had a snap election in 1983 after engrossing the country for a lengthy period in a political witch-hunt for a foreign-backed traitor in government.
As is the case today, politics became binary and you had to prove your loyalty to Nyayo in excessive fashion by denouncing the unnamed traitor and his allies. After weeks of heavy hinting Elijah Mwangale named the msaliti as Charles Njonjo, a guy who more or less shielded Arap Moi from the 1976 Change the Constitution Movement (BBI Version 2.0) which looked set to torpedo his succeeding an ailing Jomo Kenyatta by virtue of the constitutional provision that the vice president would act for 90 days before a fresh presidential election was held after a president’s death.
Because politicians in Kenya are a fluid lot, the succession to Jomo Kenyatta began even before the first anniversary of his premiership. Mwangale had some suspect credentials as he’d chaired the parliamentary investigation into the March 1975 assassination of J.M. Kariuki and edited out the names of the chief suspects at Jomo Kenyatta’s request, but his denunciation was good enough for the baying mob and Njonjo fell like Lucifer from grace never to recover politically.
Such is the imagined fate of William Ruto, one of BBI’s real targets.
I called 1976 BBI Version 2.0, because the Limuru Conference of 1966 which amended the KANU Constitution to have 8 vice –presidents for the ruling party rather than just Jaramogi Oginga Odinga was truly BBI Version 1.0. Then as now no serious discussion of the merits and demerits of the proposed change was allowed. Our leaders were ganged up against one of their own, never mind the interests of the common people. Within three years, Jaramogi and most of his 1966 allies were in jail, under house arrest, detained without trial at the President’s pleasure or dead. In 1969, all political parties but KANU were banned and there wasn’t another political party registered until 1991.
In 1991, the constitution was amended to permit registration of opposition parties after BBI Version 3.0 chaired by George Saitoti had gone around the country and claimed he had found that Kenyans wanted KANU to remain the sole political party and definitely did not want pluralism. Arap Moi at the delegates conference to discuss Saitoti’s report, had a back channel to public opinion and knew that Saitoti’s report was complete hogwash, and after some hand wringing announced that he had discerned a constitutional moment and vyama could be mingi – Kenya could be a multiparty state once again.
The trick was that he opened a veritable floodgate at the registrar of societies registering parties at such a rate as was certain to dilute the development of the actual opposition which had fought for pluralism. KANU birthed dozens of political parties, differing from KANU only in faces and not in terms of ideology, policy plans or even democratic practices.
Today we have reaped the whirlwind of what we sowed in the 1990s and there are 80 registered political parties on the books and exactly 2 are publicly funded. These two, led by Uhuru Kenyatta and Raila Odinga, are really factions of KANU as of 1997, which was the year of BBI Version 4.0 a.k.a. the Inter Parties Parliamentary Group which was the stuff the common people were force-fed that year.
But before 2018, elite scheming had never been able to pull off the trick now being played by which the common people slit their own wrists under the illusion that they are voting to amend the constitution to inter alia create a new world order in which elections have no losers; seven out of ten citizens will have a 7 year tax holiday, and despite foreign debt obligations every county will get more cash to disburse to projects of mwananchi’s choice at ward level.
All this will allegedly happen without any fiscal consequences. The health workers, teachers and other workers we can barely pay will not lose their jobs because of any structural adjustment type commitments Government has already made to the IMF, and our creditors will not ring-fence their interest and redemption payments within our consolidated fund to deny our mendicant government autonomy over taxes and government revenue. This nirvana illusion is the greatest political trick yet played on us, the ordinary wananchi, and the genius lies in the fact that we are being asked to get up early to go and stand in line to vote to do ourselves in.
In the past, politicians used to do such dirty deeds by themselves. We the common people were presented with fait accompli, ex post facto, facts on the ground, situations. We were never asked to be complicit in our own shafting. When they sought to privilege themselves at our expense, old school politicians used their legislative power and would never have dared invite the ordinary to a plebiscite. They had the guts to blatantly abuse public trust for themselves, by themselves.
Unlike the slow punctured politicians of today, before 2010 politicians accepted the political reality that there is no job security in elected office – in a democracy. Article 4 of our Constitution says Kenya is a multiparty democratic Republic. It is not a monarchy, it is not a dictatorship, and Article 1 is clear all sovereign power remains with the people.
Therefore as sovereigns, we must be wise in how we use our direct power – the vote. We must refuse to vote against our real interests. We must vote with our wallets and purses and not pay more for what we get than we should. We are already adequately represented as far as elected office goes. There is nothing that will get done better or more efficiently than can be done under our current representative structures.