By Gitahi Ngunyi
An emotive referendum drive started two weeks ago by Murang’a Governor Mwangi Wa Iria could potentially change Kenya’s politics in the foreseeable future splitting Kenyans along class lines for the first time in history.
Through an initiative dubbed Rasilmali Kenya Initiative, Wa Iria is seeking public support for a referendum to introduce a new article in the constitution that will determine how the national government, counties and local communities share revenue collected by national government for natural resources located in the various counties.
Depending on how the initiative rolls out in the next few weeks, the Murang’a governor’s drive could shift Kenya from ethnically charged politics based on interests of a few political families to politics based on economic issues of the day.
If the drive end up on the ballot as a referendum question, it will be the first time in Kenya’s political history where Kenyans will be mobilized to vote on an emotive economic issue with the ruling political and economic elites and the Murang’a Governor on the opposing side.
Wa Iria referendum drive is the third of such drives.
A referendum drive initiated by Former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and his ODM Party is seeking public support for an amendment to change Kenya from a presidential to parliamentary system headed by a ceremonial president and an executive Prime Minister and an unknown number of Deputy Prime Ministers
Thirdway Alliance Party leader Ekuru Aukot in his referendum drive is seeking public support for an amendment to reduce the number of MPs, merge counties from the current 47 to 13 elevate senate to the upper house and extend presidential term to seven years from the current five.
But the Murang’a governor’s drive is the only one with a realistic and fair chance of ending up on the ballot as a referendum question if the constitution provisions on amendments are anything to go by.
Raila’s drive intends to use the parliament route of amending the apex law and is likely to be met with stiff resistance in an ethnically divided parliament.
Aukot is seeking to amend the constitution through the popular route but is set against the interests of county government officials such as members of the county assemblies who will be required to vote on the draft constitutional amendment bill before it can be subjected to a referendum. Majority of the county assembly are required to pass the bill before it can be subjected to the referendum.
On the other hand, Wa Iria’s referendum drive touches on an issue that has been a source of conflict between national government and county governments.
Recently, the national government was forced to the negotiating table on benefit sharing with County government of Turkana after residents blocked roads to stop oil exports.
In Mombasa, the county government has for the past five years demanded a portion of the revenue accruing from operations of the Kenya Ports Authority while in Kwale, residents are still demanding a fair share of revenue from Titanium.
With the political support of the Murang’a County Assembly, Wa Iria has already drafted the proposed amendment bill titled The Constitution of Kenya (2010) Amendment Bill 2018.
In the bill, the governor moves the fight for control of revenue from natural resources between local communities and national government to the people with mouth watering proposals.
On benefit sharing, the governor proposes that county governments will be entitled to 25 percent of the revenues accruing from natural resources while the communities where the resources are located will be entitled to five percent.
Among the resources that Wa Iria wants classified as natural resources and whose revenues will be shared by national government, county governments and local communities are water, petroleum, natural gas and minerals. Others are forest resources, wildlife resources and fisheries Resources.
Wa Iria’s referendum drive comes after years of silent war with national government over water from his county which runs the manufacturing, construction and tourism in Nairobi.
The governor has demanded a 25 percent levy on the water collected from the county to Nairobi and has received backing from Mt Kenya residents and county governments in the region.
Murang’a County Assembly is already working on a water bill that if passed into an act will see the county government impose the 25 percent on water from Ndakaini Dam which accounts for 80 percent of Nairobi water supply.