Wednesday, 4 August 2010

Kenya Decides

Just a few hours after the polls closed in Kenya's referendum on a new constitution, the results are pouring in. So far, it looks like the "Yes" camp is decisively in the lead . Some bloggers are declaring victory already.
That may be a little premature, but it does seem like a clear trend is developing. If this trend is confirmed, this will be a major victory for the coalition government. And an important personal victory for Prime Minister Raila Odinga, who is expected to run for president in polls due by 2012. Approval of the draft constitution would also be a personal victory for President Mwai Kibaki who made passing a new draft his prime "legacy" issue.
If the draft is approved, this will deal a serious blow to Higher Education Minister William Ruto, who spearheaded the "No" campaign with the help of former President Daniel Arap Moi.
Most of all, today's election marks a victory for Kenyans. Everyone (me included!) was worried about possible violence. So far, everything has been peaceful. Listening to voters across the country talk about tolerance and democracy has been very uplifting.
"I was here by 5 (am). I want to be part of this historical moment," Francis Mungai told Reuters, at the Moi Avenue polling station in Nairobi. Read more quotes from Reuters here. 
Of course, there are a lot of questions. Are we seeing the decline of tribalism as a political force in Kenya? Or was this just the nature of the vote ie on a draft constitution rather than a vote on personalities? What will the No team do now? Ruto told Reuters that everyone should accept the results of the referendum. But then, somewhat sinisterly, he warned of a new religious divide in Kenya, between Muslims and Christians.
"God forbid this constitution passes, because there is a clear, serious divide coming. Divisions between Christians and Muslims who have been together for a long time are dangerous for any country," he told Reuters' Richard Lough in an interview.
That's a dangerous and somewhat confusing statement. If he's referring to the fact that Islamic courts, the kadhis courts, are enshrined in the new draft, well that is not new. They have been operating for years. So you have to question his motivation in heralding a new division now. I wonder who exactly he is trying to scare.
Moi, who campaigned strenously against the draft, was asked what he would do if the "Yes" camp won. He said: " I will express my views".
Another question remaining is what will Ruto do? Will he stay in government?
And of course, if the draft is approved, then the hard work of turning what is on paper into practical reality will begin. Odinga said today that the government would form a national post-referendum forum to unite the two sides, and he said the government would bear no grudge against those who campaigned against the draft. So maybe Ruto, Odinga's one-time right-hand man, can carry on.
But those questions are for tomorrow. Today, Kenya can enjoy the fact that the election was peaceful and, it appears, fair. The shadow cast by what happened in 2008 has hung heavy over the country. It may not have gone away entirely, but it is not quite as dark tonight.