Kenya's Constitutional Referendum: US Healthcare Debate Deja vu?

Arguably the biggest news story for the past year in the United States was Healthcare Reform and everything that went with it.  Yes, we are all too familiar with all that this subject entails so I feel no need to provide background information.  

In Kenya, the country is undergoing a similar divide style debate for a referendum on a proposed new Constitution.  The country has established a Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review to outline the major bullet points of the Constitution.  Kenya is in need of a new Constitution, and if this weren't clear enough ... look back on the 2007 election violence that took the lives of thousands of people, and lasted for several months.  

In 2007, Raila Odinga was running against incumbent President Mwai Kibaki for the Presidential Election in Kenya.  Odinga supporters claimed electoral manipulation and fraud, a claim widely backed and almost unanimously agreed upon as being factual.  Alas, Mwai Kibaki assumed power.  Tribes play large roles in politics in Africa, and Kenya is no exception to this rule.  Kibaki's tribe, the Kikuyu, is the largest tribe in all of Kenya.  Tribal violence erupted almost instantaneously, and according to personal accounts gathered by friends who were in the country at the time, tribes went after other tribes.

Kenya's president has already been sworn in for a new term, but that has not stopped the violence that followed his reelection. Critics say the contest was rigged and that led to an explosion of tribal violence in which hundreds of people have been killed.

NPR's Gwen Thompkins is in a western Kenyan town that faced an especially stark incident. And Gwen, what happened?

GWEN THOMPKINS: Well, yesterday at about noon, just outside of the town called Eldoret, many people who had been pushed off their land because of ethnic conflict stemming from the election were burned to death in the church - the Assemblies of God Church - by a mob. The church had been burned to the ground and there are about 13 bodies that have been taken out of the church so far. Their bodies that have burned beyond recognition. About four bodies have been found in houses in the surrounding area - people who apparently fled from the church and died in the houses.

From NPR

A bit of older news, but its relevant in illustrating how awful the violence was.  With new electoral provisions in the Constitution being proposed, the administration is hoping to curb/eliminate future incidents like that of the 2007 Election.  

To continue on with the referendum news...

VP Biden recently travelled to Nairobi to meet with Kibaki and several MP's and government officials to discuss matters relating to the referendum and its vote on August 4th, among other things I'm sure.  

Supporters of the referendum are referred to as "YES" people and those who oppose it are just as simply "NO" people.  According to the Daily Nation, a primary newspaper source in Kenya, Obama's Administration supports the referendum and has issued a "stern warning to no supporters in government."

The US will blacklist leaders not supporting the enactment of a new constitution

The United States is keenly watching certain senior political leaders who have outrightly failed to strongly commit to the passage of the proposed constitution.

This, according to sources, was among the key messages that US Vice-President Joe Biden delivered to the Grand Coalition leaders from President Barack Obama. Mr Biden was on a three-day visit to Nairobi this week. Those who attended the meeting at State House on Tuesday said the US President was categorical in his intentions that reforms under Agenda Four had to be fully implemented to pave the way for Kenya to make use of its potential as a strategic nation in the East African region.

One of the more controversial issues of the Constitutional Referendum is the established Kahdi Courts, which some believe grant Muslims special rights and privileges.  They are officially opposed by the Anglican Church of Kenya (ACK).

Nairobi — The Anglican Church has asked for the removal of the Kadhi courts from the harmonised draft constitution, saying it amounts to "the elevation of one religion over the rest."

The church's top decision-making organ, the House of Bishops, said it would petition the Committee of Experts on the Constitution to have the clause on the courts removed from the law currently under public debate.

Source:  All Africa 

The rest of this debate should be interesting and intriguing, however I fear a violent uprising may again take place in the aftermath of the vote in early August.

Tags: Constitutional Referendum, Obama Administration, Anglican Church of Kenya, Mwai Kibaki, 2007 Kenya Election Crisis, All Africa, The Daily Nation, Raila Odinga, Kikuyu, Eldoret, Committee of Experts, kenya, npr (all tags)

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