Even before sponsors of the Constitutional Amendment Bill proposed under the Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) embark on civic education to enlighten Kenyans on the provisions and benefits of the proposed changes, the latest opinion poll indicates that a significant number of citizens have already made a decision to support it.
According to the poll conducted by Trends and Insights Africa (TIFA) in December 2020, almost one third of Kenyans said they will vote ‘Yes’ when the plebiscite is held next June.
Such a huge number is worthy of attention given that the opinion poll was held even before the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) concludes verification of those who are backing the popular initiative, which will set in motion other stages, including civic education.
By last Friday, the 400 clerks retained by the agency had processed 544,624 signatures out of the 4.4 million that were submitted by the BBI national secretariat.
According to the Tifa poll, 42 per cent of Kenyans said they will either not vote (26 percent) or are unsure (16 percent), but of more significance is that 68 percent of those who said they will not vote only cited lack information on the BBI proposals.
It also emerged that the majority of those ready to endorse the document are so far only conversant with proposals to increase allocations to the counties (19 percent) and the creation of the position of Prime Minister and two deputies to enhance inclusivity (15 percent). At least five per cent cited the many benefits to youth.
Yet, the Constitution Amendment Bill contains many other proposals that would benefit both the country and citizens, particularly the youth, women, marginalised groups and entrepreneurs.
Tifa acknowledges in its report that the referendum process is at a preliminary stage, stating: “As is evident from the findings, and as has been expressed repeatedly by both proponents and opponents of particular sections of the content of the BBI report’s proposals, the entire process is still in a very preliminary stage.
Only now is the IEBC undertaking the verification of the signatures that were presented as part of the constitutional requirements for putting such a referendum to the people. Moreover, as even some of the most senior leaders who support this package or proposals have stated, the public is far from ready to vote, given the very low level of familiarity with its contents, so that considerable civic education is required before the people can informed decisions when the referendum takes place.”
In my estimation, after the conclusion of intensive civic education and distribution of copies of the Amendment Bill to make citizens better understand the Bill’s content, the degree of support is likely to go well past the 69 percent that was recorded in favour of the 2010 Constitution, which Deputy President William Ruto was opposing.
Civic education is reputed as the best tool to empower citizens to participate in democratic processes and make informed choices. A constitutional referendum is one such process.
It ensures that the electorate is not poisoned by propaganda to either stay away from exercising their civic duty or make wrong choices that they will live to regret later.
Presently, those opposed to the Constitution are engaged in a lot of mis/disinformation with the aim of derailing the quest for constitution changes, which are meant to address historical challenges that the country has been grappling with including post-election instability, lack of inclusivity, underdevelopment/uneven development, ethnic antagonism and corruption, among others.
I urge the BBI leadership to put in place mechanisms for widespread civic engagement in all parts of the country and ensure every voter gets a copy of the Constitution Amendment Bill to read and understand the proposed changes so as to make an informed choice.
They should take encouragement from the opinion poll, which indicated that even among supporters of DP Ruto, there are those who have made a decision to vote “Yes.”
This means that they have opted to be on the right side of history. The figure stands at 27 percent while another eight percent are still unsure.
The BBI promoters should make use of all tools and methods necessary to ensure the message gets to every Kenyan voter.
Due to restrictions on large gatherings due to the Covid-19 pandemic, the BBI promoters can take advantage of the media, especially digital and social media, to develop knowledge and promote discussions on the proposed constitutional changes and how they will be of benefit to Kenyans if approved at the referendum.
This will complement other strategies such as organising small groups where the promoters can engage the electorate in town hall meetings.