Today is the day, August 4, 2010, when more than 12 million Kenyans are expected to go to the polls to vote “yes” or “no” for the passing of the latest draft constitution. It’s a day Kenyans have been waiting for since the re-writing process of a new constitution began in 1998.
More than 27,000 polling stations are manned with troops and police officers deployed from around the nation.
Whether the draft constitution passes or not, today is a historic one for the nation of Kenya.
Memories of 2007’s post election violence are still fresh in the national memory. President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have called for peace and yesterday evening, hundreds of Kenyans carried fire-flamed candles at a peace rally organized by Uwaino Peace Initiative.
The common message: We are all Kenyans. Let us have peace during and after this referendum process.
Violence, well…everyone is praying against such. The hot spots are mostly in Rift Valley Province, where ethnic tensions run deep. A friend named Jayshree told me to be sure that I get a ride to work this week because it may be unsafe to walk. She also told me to stock up on foods. On Sunday night, we went to the grocery store, Nakumatt in Westgate mall, and the milk and cheese were gone. Many other common items were gone as well and Jayshree said people are storing up just to be safe. During the 2007 post-election violence, Kenyans were forced to stay inside as blood spilled in the streets….literally.
I asked one taxi driver is he thinks there will be any violence. He said no, but if there were to be, it would come from the students at University of Nairobi. If the draft doesn’t pass, they may go to the streets in protest. From what I hear, these are quite aggressive students and their protests involve burning buildings and turning over vehicles. Fortunately, my apartment is right next to the University of Nairobi’s student flats! How…exciting!
As a visitor to this country, I’ve been quite impressed with what I’ve seen during this whole campaign. Democracy is alive and well in this country. The media and Interim Independent Electoral Commission (IIEC) have done an excellent job in educating Kenyans about the details of the draft. Nearly every night, the popular news stations have broadcasted feature shows about the referendum. Sometimes the shows are funny, sometimes serious, but always informative.
Those who are in support of the referendum, the “yes” campaign have been parading the country wearing green and the “no” campaigners have draped themselves in red. Kibaki and Odinga are in full support. At one press conference, Odinga said that this constitution is for the liberalization of all Kenyans. He called for Kenyans to prove the world wrong by conducting a peaceful referendum voting process.
But, former president Daniel Moi does not support this draft and many analysts say that he is worried that he may not be able to keep all his land. This draft constitution makes a provision for distribution of land ownership. Moi owns an extensive amount of land in this country and it seems no one knows just how much.
An overwhelming majority of those I’ve spoken to (students, taxi drivers, journalists, teachers, doctors, business owners) support this draft constitution. The passion of the Kenyan people is surely a sight to see. Yesterday and the previous day, I heard music in the streets and saw three vans painted in green driving slowly along University Way. Inside the van, people wearing green t-shirts, some with face paint, danced. The “yes” campaign theme song blared loudly to what sounded like a soukous beat. Last Sunday, I heard shouts of people in Uhuru Park and a voice from a megaphone calling for the peaceful passing of the draft.
Among its many provisions, this draft constitution calls for equal representation of the ethnic groups in the government, gender equality and the creation of a new chamber of Parliament to check the President.
In 24 hours, we will see what happens.