News / Africa

New Kenyan Constitution Ushered in During Friday Ceremony

Michael Onyiego

After nearly two decades of frustration, the campaign to establish a new body of laws in Kenya will end Friday with the implementation of a new constitution.  Furious preparations are drawing to a close as the country welcomes foreign dignitaries for the historic event.

The constitution ceremony, being celebrated as a national holiday, will usher in what many believe could be a new era for the East African nation.  The event will be attended by leaders from across Africa including former United Nations Secretary General Kofi Annan, Rwandan President Paul Kagame and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete.

Across the Kenyan capital, workers employed by the Nairobi city council could be seen hanging flags, applying fresh coats of paint and removing litter from the city streets for the much anticipated Promulgation Day festivities.

Extra police forces have also been dispatched throughout central Nairobi to ensure the constitution's peaceful transition.  Despite the often bitter nature of the debate surrounding the constitution in the past months, the Kenyan government has promoted the ceremony as a day of national unity.

Police spokesman Eric Kiraithe urged Kenyans to demonstrate the same composure displayed during the referendum earlier this month.

"This is a very solemn ceremony for this country," said Kiraithe.  "We shall be on the spotlight from the international community and we expect the accountability Kenyans demonstrated throughout the referendum campaign period and up to now, the civilized manner in which we carried out referendum.  We really expect every to demonstrate that kind of civic responsibility to the world tomorrow."

Tomorrow is likely to bring some measure of closure to the country, which is still reeling from the post-election violence that rocked the country in early 2008.  After President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga accused each other of fraud in the December 2007 presidential election, ethnic violence erupted across the country.  More than 1,000 Kenyans were killed in the ensuing chaos, while 300,000 were forced to flee their homes.

The August 4 referendum that ratified the new constitution was part of the peace agreement that ended the violence.  Then-rivals President Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga have since joined forces to support the new constitution.

Thousands are expected to flock to Nairobi's Uhuru Park to watch Kenya's leaders take their oaths under the new constitution.  Nairobi graduate student Ruth Wamboi says the festivities would mark a new beginning for the nation.

"Tomorrow will be a very big day for Kenya since it is a new dawn.  It is like a rebirth for Kenya," said Wamboi.  "Plus, it is all about women tomorrow because there is a very big representation of them in the constitution, so it is a good thing.  I am hoping for the best."

While certain provisions of the new constitution will take effect immediately, the new document will not be fully implemented until 2012.  Prime Minister Odinga, whose position was eliminated under the new draft, will not take a new oath of office, but will retain his post until presidential elections are held in 2012.

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