Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Referendum Day

Today's the big day! August 4, 2010 could go down as an historic day in the development of Kenyan democracy. It's constitutional referendum day, with millions of Kenyans heading to the polls to cast a simple vote - Yes or No - on a new Proposed Constitution of Kenya. Here's a run-down of information on the referendum for anyone who is interested...

1. The text of the proposed constitution can be found here, or if you want the Cliff Notes version, you can scan the Wikipedia entry for it.

2. It would be SHOCKING if 'Yes' doesn't win. The polls over the past two months have been showing steadily increasing support for the proposed constitution. I think the most recent one I saw had something like 70% in favor, 20% against, 10% undecided. Which means that if somehow 'No' is announced as the outcome, you would be a fool not to conclude corruption is at play...

3. Because corruption ain't no joke in Kenya.

4. The people who are against the constitution are, generally speaking, motivated by religion. Although the constitution clearly defines life as beginning at conception, it also has a clause that provides for abortion in certain cases. It states: "Abortion is not permitted unless, in the opinion of a trained health professional, there is need for emergency treatment, or the life or health of the mother is in danger, or if permitted by any other written law." People have been traveling the country assailing the constitution because it will permit the killing of babies. Sound like American politics? That's because it is. The 'No' campaign has been receiving thousands (if not millions) of dollars from evangelical Christians in America, and has even gotten support from a New Jersey Republican Congressman who serves on a sub-Saharan Africa committee. The Congressman (whose name I forget; I read it in the Daily Nation a few weeks ago), has held up the abortion clause in his condemnation of the Constitution, although my best guess is that he hasn't even glanced at the document. I wonder if a Republican politician would even care about the referendum if Obama's roots happened to be in another African country?

The other big religious (Christian) objective to the proposed constitution is the continued inclusion (from the original constitution) of Kadhi Muslim family courts, which would be a subordinate court under Kenya's superior courts (Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court). In addition to having operated in Kenya since its independence in 1963, these Muslim family courts are found throughout the Islamic world. The proposed constitution states: "The jurisdiction of a Kadhis’ court shall be limited to the determination of questions of Muslim law relating to personal status, marriage, divorce or inheritance in proceedings in which all the parties profess the Muslim religion and submit to the jurisdiction of the Kadhi’s courts." So to be clear, the courts are only for people who profess Muslim faith, and even then, it's up to them if they choose to submit to the jurisdiction of the court. And it's only related to familial matters - marriage, divorce, inheritance, personal status. And they are subordinate to higher courts. So what's the problem here? It's no doubt true that America is a big influence in Kenya, but unfortunately that includes the bad influences as well. From what I've read, discrimination against Muslims in Kenya - a group that makes up 25% of the country's population - has risen dramatically since the 9/11 terror attacks. This is just more fear mongering by the country's wannabe American evangelicals.

Ryan Ubuntu had a good blog post a few weeks ago that provides some great insight into the religious fervor against the constitution. Pretty scary stuff.

5. Really, the only sane way to use religion in this whole referendum process is to pray that there won't be any violence. Most of the world probably remembers the horrible violence and rioting that took place after the corrupt Presidential election of December 2007. Over 1,100 people died. Kisumu, the nearest city to me, was a hotbed of violence and rioting. I'm confident that there won't be any problems this time around though. First of all, Kisumu is a hotbed of Yes. Virtually everybody's Yes in Western and Nyanza Province. For the most part, the No folks are limited to the Rift Valley. Most of the rest of the country, as the polls are indicating, are strongly Yes. So, it's simply not as contested as the 2007 election was (unless a fast one is pulled and No is announced the winner....yikes).

Secondly, the government has done a good job of taking security precautions. For instance, the government has forced the cell phone companies (Safaricom, Zain, and Orange) to require every single one of the customers to register their phone number in person with photo identification. Every single phone number in Kenya has a name attached to it now. Even mine. I had to go into the Zain store in Kisumu, wait in a long line, and then show them my passport and fill out a form as they registered my number and name in their computer. If I hadn't registered by July 30th, my phone would have been shut off. We even had to register our Safaricom internet modem as well.

As a side note, this precaution would be looked upon approvingly by author Robert Wright as a "non-zero-sum" game. Yes, it's forcing citizens to surrender some personal liberties, but the purpose is to keep them safe. This is the part of Nonzero that I struggled with most - I've been hard-line against the Patriot Act following 9/11, but Wright, even though he wrote the book before 9/11, seemed to be promoting the sacrifice of such personal liberties for the safety of the human race in a nuclear world.

6. The two sides have chosen colors. Green for Yes, Red for No. I was wondering if these colors had larger ideological significance like Blue and Red have in the U.S., but apparently this is the first time they have been used in a prominent national election to represent head-to-head interests. I have a feeling that this could be the birth of an ongoing Green-Red competition in Kenyan politics with each color having an over-generalized meaning. Again, America is not always a good influence.

7. Nonetheless, like Ben, I'm wearing a green shirt today. Stay tuned for the result.


kcinthecape said...

This is a really helpful synopsis, David - thanks for sharing it all. And it adds a new meaning to going green, eh?

I bet the terrible turkey is against the consitution.

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