Kenyan referendum ‘may spark violence’

2010-07-16 07:31

Political observers seeking ways to avoid conflict over Kenya’s

upcoming constitutional referendum said they fear the country could see violence

if the proposed constitution is adopted.

Kenya votes on a new constitution on August 4. The draft contains

two controversial clauses – one that allows abortion in cases of

life-threatening pregnancies and a second one recognising Muslim courts used to

resolve family disputes.

But political scientist Duncan Okello – who participated in

yesterday’s government-called meeting of academics and conflict specialists –

said delaying the referendum could result in even more bloodshed than Kenya’s

last election.

Opponents of the new constitution have called for the postponement

of the referendum until a consensus is reached over the contested issues.

Okello said: “If an act of man prevents the referendum from taking

place then the violence will be 10 times what we saw in the post-election


The observers said violence will most likely occur in western

Kenya, around the Rift Valley region, which has been a hotspot for political

violence for nearly two decades.

Some of that region’s residents oppose the adoption of the draft

constitution, the observers said.

The Rift Valley was the epicentre of Kenya’s 2008 post-election

violence that left more than 1 000 people dead and 600 000 displaced from their


Okello said if the constitution is adopted, the biggest challenge

will be to find the good leadership to implement it.

He said: “Rules matter but the leadership matters more.”

Okello said his team’s research shows there will be no immediate

violence if the proposed constitution is rejected, but grievances by the Muslim

community who feel marginalised by the current constitution may lead them to

seek secession.

Okello said rejection of the constitution will kill the momentum of

other reforms.

Adoption of a new constitution was one of the reforms agreed on in

a deal to end the post-election violence.

Analysts partly blamed the violence on the enormous powers given to

the president by the current constitution.

These powers have been abused since Kenya’s 1963 independence from

Britain by successive presidents who have favoured tribesmen and friends in the

distribution of resources.

The new constitution introduces American-style checks

and balances on the presidency.


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