Kenya on the peaceful path to a new constitution

2010-08-06 07:47

Kenya’s president heralded the passage of a new constitution as a “national renewal” after results showed that close to 70% of the country had backed the document replacing a British colonial-era draft that inflated the powers of the presidency.

Opponents of the new constitution conceded defeat gracefully yesterday, paving the way for a peaceful transition to the new draft document.

Ethnically charged violence left more than 1 000 people dead following the disputed 2007 presidential election, raising concerns about the aftermath of Wednesday’s vote.

“The historic journey that we began more than 20 years ago is now coming to a happy end,” President Mwai Kibaki told hundreds of supporters in Nairobi, some of whom blew the vuvuzela.

“Indeed, may the new constitutional dispensation be our shield and defender.”

Kenya’s election commission said 69% of the 8 million voters who cast ballots backed the new constitution, an overwhelming victory that likely helped quash any potential for violence. Voter turnout was 72%.

Opponents of the draft had expressed misgivings yesterday about the results, but William Ruto, Kenya’s higher education minister and a top leader of the “no” team, conceded defeat.

“As member of the “no” team, we respect the verdict of the majority,” Ruto said. He then called on the “yes” side to engage in negotiations over the parts of the constitution the “no” side objected to, items likely to include the constitution’s clauses on abortion and land ownership.

Kibaki reached out to the “no” camp in his speech, saying the “no” voters’ voices had been heard.

Others in the “yes” camp said: “Saying that we have won is an understatement. Kenya has been reborn,” said Kiraitu Murungi, the minister of energy. “In fact, it has been 20 years of painful labour. There is neither winner nor loser – we are all Kenyans. Let us embrace each other as we usher the country into a new chapter.”

In Washington, Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton said Kenya’s new constitution was the centrepiece of the country’s reform agenda aimed at addressing underlying causes of violence.

The results are “an indication that a very strong majority of Kenyans have voted for fundamental change”, Clinton said. “We urge all Kenyans to reach out to each other to work together after this referendum to support Kenya’s democratic institutions and to move Kenya forward into the kind of future that Kenyans themselves deserve.”

Voters overwhelmed polling stations in some locations on Wednesday. The international community, and particularly the US, had urged Kenyans to pass the constitution, even as the draft raised emotions over land rights, abortion and Muslim family courts.

Kenya’s current constitution, drawn up in the lead-up to Kenya’s 1963 independence from Britain, grants the president sweeping powers. The new constitution would dramatically cut back on those powers by setting up an American-style system of checks and balances, and paving the way for much-needed land reform.

In the Rift Valley – the scene of some of the worst atrocities in 2007/08 – Bishop Cornelius Korir said the church would continue to press the government as it implemented the new constitution to take into account the church’s view on abortion.

“We are very proud of the people of the North Rift for maintaining peace and we want peace to continue,” Korir said.
A coalition of evangelical churches said in a statement that it was saddened by irregularities in the campaign, balloting and counting phases of the election process, but the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church did not sign the statement.

An observer group said it had not seen any signs of rigging as had been claimed by some in the “no” camp.

“We are confident that the process and the results reflect the wishes of Kenyans,” said Kennedy Masime, the chairman of the Elections Observation Group, which had 10 000 observers across the country.

The passing of the new constitution is a major victory for Kibaki, who backed a constitutional referendum in 2005 that was defeated. The push for a new constitution began two decades ago.

The referendum was one of the conditions of the power-sharing agreement between Kibaki and Prime Minster Raila Odinga that ended the 2007/08 violence.

Both back the new constitution, and both appealed to Kenyans to vote peacefully.

Kenyan presidents have long favoured their own ethnic tribes in the distribution of resources, a tremendous source of tension here.

Join the conversation!

24.com encourages commentary submitted via MyNews24. Contributions of 200 words or more will be considered for publication.

We reserve editorial discretion to decide what will be published.
Read our comments policy for guidelines on contributions.

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Comments have been closed for this article.

Inside News24

 
/News

Book flights

Compare, Book, Fly

Traffic Alerts
There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.




Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.