Kenya Referendum 2010

Kenya held a constitutional referendum on August 4 pertaining to the ratification of a new constitution to replace the much-amended but outdated constitution in practice, not without much amendments, since 1991. Kenya, usually noted by analysts of African politics as a rare stable semi-democratic regime without civil wars or coups like in French West Africa, defied these traditional standards following the 2007 election. The allegedly rigged results of the 2007 election led to bloody ethnic violence between Kenya’s two dominant ethnic groups, the Luos and Kikuyus – who were usually political allies of convenience in the past. The conflict was resolved when President Mwai Kibaki, a Kikuyu, who had been re-elected in the controversial 2007 election, accepted to form a national unity government with his rival, the Luo Raila Odinga as Prime Minister. While cohabitation between the two has been shaky, Kenya seems to have returned to a facade of political stability.

Kibaki’s first government, between 2002 and 2007, promised constitutional reform and held a referendum in 2005 on a draft of a new constitution, though it was defeated in a 2005 referendum. The results of the 2005 referendum should have served as a warning to the world of the division of the country along ethnic-tribal lines following the 2007 election, because the constitution proposed in 2005 was widely opposed by the Luos and led to the formation of a wide opposition coalition around, notably, Raila Odinga.

The new constitution, drafted despite fights between Kibaki and Odinga, has the advantage of being acceptable to both sides of the equation. It will remove the temporary office of Prime Minister created in 2008 to accommodate Odinga, ushering in a return to a normal presidential system. Some sort of devolution and de-centralization with the creation of 47 new counties each with an elected governor and assembly is also included in the draft. In addition, an upper house, the Senate, will be created and seats allocated to the counties. Some sort of redistricting for the existing lower house, which has 210 seats today, will be done which will likely augment the number of seats to 290 including 47 seats reserved for women (1 women per county, basically). Some sort of land reform is also included in the text. More controversially, an article concerning abortion is made slightly vaguer though in practice the status of abortion is not changed. Furthermore, the constitution provides for the establishment of Muslim Kadhi Courts with jurisdiction over marriage, divorce and inheritance within the country’s small Muslim minority. The Muslim minority is also exempted from broad sections of the Bill of Rights based on their religion.

The constitution was backed by Odinga and Kibaki, but the opposition included incumbent cabinet ministers but most notably the Church which was opposed to the vague language of the abortion clause and the Kadhi Courts’ entrenchment into the new constitution. Former President Daniel Arap Moi (a Luo, I think) also opposed the constitution. Yet, all polling has shown a wide majority in favour of the constitution.

Turnout was heavy at 72.1% and Raila Odinga’s prediction of 70% in favour was close to the final count:

Do you approve the proposed new constitution?

Yes 66.9%
No 33.1%

The constitution passed by rather wide margins in all but one of the country’s provinces, and the results showed wide multi-ethnic support for the constitution. Nyanza, on the shore of Lake Victoria, Odinga’s best province in 2007 (82%) gave the YES over 90%, while at the same time, the Central Province, Kibaki’s best province in 2007 (97%) gave the YES over 80%. In the North Eastern Province, which has a large Muslim population, due to its proximity to Somalia, support for the constitution peaked at 96%. It failed only in the Rift Valley, former President Daniel Arap Moi’s home turf and a strongly (65%) Odinga province in 2007. The wide multi-ethnic support is likely a good sign for the country, but remains to be seen if such a rosy situation will hold when the presidency is at stake again in 2012.

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Posted on August 6, 2010, in Kenya, Referendums. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.

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