Tuesday March 25 2014

Referenda play key role in democratic governance

By Hussein L. Amin

I am writing in response to Mr Harold Acema’s opinion article “One man’s reflection on Charles Njojo’s viewpoint on the East African Community” in the Sunday Monitor of March 23. I don’t understand why the writer complains about having a referendum in regard to the EastAfrica Community. A referendum is actually pertinent in that it provides legitimacy to any important national process.

At its roots, the EAC was created by politicians without any quantifiable approval by its people. The advantage of a referendum in East Africa is that it encourages all politicians to focus on fulfilling its requirements. If Tanzanians say ‘yes’ to EAC in a vote, their government wouldnot have any reason to lag behind as it currently is. Everyone becomes obliged to move forward because that is the mandate they have.

Much as a referendum sounds far-fetched and tiresome today, anyone genuinely concerned about the longterm solidity of due process as a robust foundation, should recognise that a referendum is key, especially as we move towards a political union.

We should learn to allow the people their say especially on the important issues such as the EAC.
For example, if Uganda had held a referendum on homosexuality, we would not have the international outcry we face today and the legal challenge initiated in the courts about it. The people would have spoken democratically regardless of what the West says like in Croatia last year.

Do we hear anyone complaining about Croatia? That’s because they held a referendum where they overwhelmingly said ‘No’ to same-sex marriage. Similarly, issues like lifting or re-instating term limits are important enough to let the people decide. Same goes for East African Community.

As it stands, with a good legal argument, the East African Community could even be found to be illegal. Who asked us if we wanted it. And even if we did, who authorised it? Did he/she consult East Africans? It is not for nothing that power belongs to the people. Someday, the people of Africa will definitely have their say on African Union. Same goes for EAC.