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Kenya’s ‘unEast African’ constitution and why it took so long

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President Mwai KIbaki with Prime Minister Raila Odinga addressing the nation from KICC Nairobi on August 05, during victory celebration. Photo/WILLIAM OERI

President Mwai KIbaki with Prime Minister Raila Odinga addressing the nation from KICC Nairobi on August 05, during victory celebration. Photo/WILLIAM OERI 

By CHARLES ONYANGO-OBBO

Posted  Monday, August 9   2010 at  00:00
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Large margins are rare in Kenya’s political contests, so it says a lot that 70 per cent of the voters endorsed the new constitution in last week’s August 4 referendum.

The “No” side, led by a motley crew of churchmen, Higher Education Minister William Ruto, and former president Daniel arap Moi, eked out 30 per cent.

The referendum was a bold move for President Mwai Kibaki who, with Prime Minister Raila Odinga, led the Yes campaign.

Kibaki first pushed a referendum on a new constitution in 2005 and lost.

The No side in 2005 was led by his bosom ally in the latest referendum, PM Raila who, like Ruto on this round, was then also a minister who went rogue.

It says something about the mettle of the deceptively laidback Kibaki that he would seek a referendum within five years of his last defeat.

There are few leaders in the world with that level of political masochism.

By choosing to make a constitution via a referendum, Kenya is unlike its old partners in the East African Community, Tanzania and Uganda.

That method is more in the tradition of the new EAC members Rwanda and Burundi.

Rwanda has had two constitutional referendums, in 1978 and 2003.

Burundi has had the most — in 1981, 1992 and more recently in 2005.

That said, it would be a mistake to conclude that Kenya shares constitution-making similarities with Burundi and Rwanda.

On the contrary, Kenya’s new constitution offers an interesting insight into how its political culture and dynamics are different from the rest of the EAC.

Tanzania amended its constitution in 1992 to make its politics more modern, and to give the ruling Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM — or Party of Revolution) a second lease of life as a reformist party.

That second life at the top seems set to be a very long one.

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