…Choices have consequences…
This was among the many wise sayings that the British people ignored or neglected. In 2016, Britain voted to leave the European Union. They cited insecurity as one of the reasons for leaving the economic bloc. After the referendum was conducted, Britain was given two years to prepare for an exit strategy. The two years have been full of drama. The Wall Street Journal compared the situation in the UK with that of a Latin America soap opera. It described the aftermath as , ‘…from a far, the spectacle of the UK undergoing the national political equivalent of a nervous breakdown has been a source of head scratching . The country once defined by its stiff up lip has been indulging in a kind of orgy of public history onyx more commonly associated with Latin America telenovela...’
Before Brexit happened, Britain was in some sort of a friends with benefit relationship with the EU. This relationship ensured that there was trade and cooperation in a lot of aspects. However, in the period between 2015 & 2016, nationalism happened. This was attributed to terrorism and frustration with the system. People wanted change, thus Brexit. However, the conditions that led to Britain voting leave have changed drastically and some factions have been calling for a second referendum.
The situation in Britain can be used to bring in vital lessons to Kenya and the world in general. There has been calls for a referendum in Kenya so as to amend the current constitution. However, as we prepare for this referendum, what are the lessons that Kenya can infer from the situation in the UK?
A referendum is an exercise of direct democracy.
Most democracies in the world are both direct and representative. However, most exercise it through representatives. Meaning that the electorate elects leaders who in turn make rules policies and decisions on their behalf. In Kenya, this is eminent from Article 1 of the Constitution which provides that all sovereign power belongs to the people and can be exercised directly or through democratically elected representatives. When democracy is exercised indirectly, most policy decisions are left in the hands of leaders. However, when democracy is exercised directly, the people themselves decide on policy. And this is what happened in the UK. The decision to leave the UK was left in the hands of voters who elected to leave the EU which was a major issue with severe consequences. Given that this decision is left in the hands of voters, this brings us to the second point.
The need for voter education when conducting referendums.
As seen above, a decision with major ramifications for the UK was left in the hands of voters. Therefore, there is need to ensure that voters are adequately informed about the decision they are about to make. In the UK, it was reported that voter education was so bad such that immediately after the referendum, the most googled term was what is the EU. This means that voters were left with the mandate of deciding on a major policy decision that most had no clue about. Some voters on being asked why they voted leave, they said that they wanted to frustrate the system. Thus this explains the chaos there. As Kenya gears towards a referendum, it is imperative that voters are adequately informed about the choices they are about to make and the consequences. For example, had someone told Kenyans about a ballooning wage bill as a result of the new constitution, we could not be having this debate about a referendum. Given that voters needs to be educated, it is important to outline the role of leaders.
The role of leaders
Unfortunately, though a referendum has been categorized as a direct democracy, it is not as direct. Leaders play a vital role when it comes to a referendum. The point is, voters do not enjoy a complete autonomy when it comes to the choices they make but are heavily influenced by what their leaders are telling them. Leaders have been seen as instrumental when it comes to referendums. In the UK, the leave campaign heavily relied on propaganda of terrorism and the immigration rise that was seen across Europe. Immigrants were seen as a threat to national security. Whereas there was some truth to that, not all of them were terrorists and were simply seeking for a safe haven away from persecution in their countries. Nonetheless, they did not address the repercussions of the decision to leave.Kenyan leaders therefore have a role to play in ensuring that all facts are laid down to the electorate. They also should not use this avenue as a ground for the 2022 elections.
The role technology companies in curbing fake news.
The internet has been a blessing and a curse. Every one these days is a news source. During electioneering periods, there are dangers of spread of misinformation. People have the tendency to disregard credible news sources and go for the ones that appeal to their subjective emotions. As reiterated in my last post, fake news is a malady that needs to be cut off before it spreads. During the referendum, there were allegations of the spread of fake news. In addition,Cambridge Analytica, was accused of using users data to influence an election. Facebook was fined as a result. It has also been blamed for doing that in Kenya too. Therefore, it is up to users to ensure that they verify information before spreading it. For the government, it is up to them to realize that misinformation is prevalent, real and needs to be stopped.
The world is globalized
Last but not least it is imperative to realize that we are in an era where we are more inter-connected than before. The events in Britain have proved that an attempt to exit the global order has severe implications on the economy. Countries need allies to deal with threats such as terrorism. Given the implications Brexit will have on the economy, it is important for countries to appreciate the need of a community of states.
In conclusion, many lessons can be inferred from the Brexit referendum. For Kenya, the new constitution presented with it better systems of representation, bill of rights and proper mechanisms of transparency and accountability. Notwithstanding the positive features, there is need for us to amend the constitution so as to deal with the problem of over representation among many other challenges. This process should not be used as a process for creating more seats for a certain political elite, rather, it should be used as a means of addressing the problems.