FACTBOX-Kenya's difficult path to a new constitution

News and Press Release
Originally published
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01 Aug 2010 14:14:16 GMT

By Richard Lough

NAIROBI, Aug 1 (Reuters) - Kenyans will vote in a referendum on August 4 that would rewrite the political landscape of east Africa's largest economy for the first time since independence.

Here are some key facts on Kenya's long path towards constitutional reform:


-- In the early 1980s, former President Daniel Arap Moi banned political parties and created a single party state with his Kenya African National Union (KANU) the ruling party. The elimination of political opposition came hot on the heels of an abortive military coup in August 1982 and for some marked the beginning of Moi's increasingly autocratic leadership.

-- Critics say Moi set about tightening his grip on power, squeezing the political space out of the east African nation and torturing his opponents.

-- In 1988 presidential elections, Moi scrapped the secret ballot and voters lined up behind their favoured candidates. The mlolongo (queuing) system triggered widespread agitation for an overhaul of the constitution.

-- In the eyes of his supporters, Moi succeeded in preserving Kenya as a corner of stability in a troubled continent and introduced pluralism at home when he repealed section 2A of the constitution. Kenya returned to a multi-party state and a cap was set on presidential terms.


-- In 2000, Moi appointed Kenyan constitutional lawyer Yash Pal Ghai as head of a team of experts to draft a new constitution aimed at modernising Kenya. Many saw the country as stuck in a colonial past, not least because of the president's sweeping powers.

-- At the time, Kenyans were clamouring for curbing of state powers and an end to the wholesale graft that had brought the economy to its knees.

-- Two years later, Moi surprised many by accepting the cap on term limits and putting forward his protege, Uhuru Kenyatta, son of post-independence founding father Jomo Kenyatta, as his successor. Moi's former vice president, Mwai Kibaki, rallied a coalition of leaders from across Kenya to form the National Rainbow Coalition-Kenya (NARC). Their mission was to defeat Kenyatta and they promised a new constitution in 100 days.

-- Kibaki and his wingman, Raila Odinga, handed KANU a shock defeat. For many, the rainbow coalition heralded a new dawn for Kenya that would usher in a new constitution and end the sycophantic behaviour of many politicians.


-- Kibaki and Odinga were unnatural partners brought together by a determination to give Kenya a new charter. They signed a memorandum of understanding on the shape of the power structure. But the debate within the coalition soon turned into increasingly acrimonious squabbles.

-- Odinga, a Luo whose tribe felt politically and economically marginalised at the hands of the Kikuyu, Kibaki's tribe, and Moi's Kalenjin tribe, wanted presidential powers diluted and a prime minister to share executive powers. Kibaki's inner circle -- nicknamed the Mount Kenya Mafia -- refused.

-- Splits widened within the coalition. The government rejected a draft constitution which transferred most presidential powers to a prime minister elected by parliament. Instead, it plumped for a second proposal, the Wako Draft, that barely altered presidential powers.

-- From inside the coalition, Odinga and his allies spearheaded a no campaign and subjected Kibaki to a humiliating defeat. Kibaki sacked his government the next day. It was back to the drawing board.


-- The latest effort to rewrite the constitution was triggered by the bloody fallout from a fiercely disputed presidential election in 2007. A new legal framework was central to the political reforms agreed upon under a power-sharing deal brokered by former U.N. chief Kofi Annan.

-- Kibaki and Odinga are re-united in a coalition government and this time around are working in tandem. For Kibaki, the vote offers what is likely to be his last chance to provide Kenyans with the new charter he first promised nine years ago and secure his legacy. For Odinga, a "yes" vote would provide a platform to launch his 2012 presidential campaign.

-- Odinga surprised many by backing a presidential system. Diplomats and legal experts agree the proposal is far from perfect but say it is a significant improvement, whittling down the president's powers with added checks and balances.

-- Campaigning has been divisive and, recently, increasingly personalised, with Kibaki and Moi, a leading "no" voice, trading barbs over their respective failings to rewrite Kenya's politIcal landscape.

-- Opinion polls point to a comfortable majority endorsing the referendum but the post-election violence scars run deep and fighting in regions where the "no" camp is strong cannot be ruled out. (Editing by Michael Roddy)

Reuters - Thomson Reuters Foundation
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