Kenya - RFI Interviews

Debate heats up in final week before Kenyan constitution vote

Campaigns in Kenya for the referendum on a new constitution enter the final week, with President Mwai Kibaki leading a spirited effort for the adoption of the draft, while a number of influential politicians and church leaders are waging a concerted effort to defeat it.

Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki (Center), PM Raila Odinga (L) and vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka release doves during the constitutional campaign
Kenyan president Mwai Kibaki (Center), PM Raila Odinga (L) and vice-president Kalonzo Musyoka release doves during the constitutional campaign REUTERS

Kenyan constitution vote

The attainment of a new constitution was part of the accord that set up Kenya’s grand coalition government, formed after the bloody aftermath of the contested election that saw President Kibaki returned to office under controversial circumstances in December 2007.

Nearly 1,500 people were killed and almost half a million displaced, and Kenyan politicians undertook to enact a new constitution to avoid a repeat of such violence.

But what was earlier considered a smooth ride to adopt the new draft is turning out to be a serious contest between the two sides.

President Kibaki on Wednesday took the campaigns to Western Kenya after a series of rallies in the populous central province that is his political bedrock, but the last two days were marked by a sharp exchange of words between Kibaki and his predecessor Daniel Arap Moi, who is feverishly campaigning for the rejection of the draft.

The usually diplomatic Kibaki told former president Moi that it was shameful for him to hop around the country campaigning against the draft, especially after presiding over Kenya for twenty-four years and failing to deliver a new constitution.

Moi fired back that Kibaki himself had promised a new constitution within 100 days after coming to office in 2002, but hadn't delivered.

The campaigns have brought forth the phenomenon of a government sometimes appearing to campaign against itself, with influential Rift Valley politician and higher education minister William Ruto leading the campaign against the draft, backed by a good number of church leaders and MPs from the area that has been a political flashpoint in past elections.

Dr Tom Namwamba, the coordinator of the 'no' campaigns, says the draft is a recipe for future chaos if passed.

With energetic campaigner Prime Minister Raila Odinga out of the limelight recovering from a medical condition, President Kibaki and his deputy Kalonzo Musyoka have unleashed the entire government machinery - including a controversial decision to allow senior civil servants to vote - in an effort to achieve a decisive win.

The vote on August 4 will prove if they have been successful.

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