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Changing Kenya Constitution Gets Priority in Recovery Efforts


With the departure of chief mediator Kofi Annan, Kenya’s parliament will be focusing efforts on implementing the new power-sharing deal agreed to by President Mwai Kibaki and opposition leader Raila Odinga. But the past two months of ethnic strife and the dislocation of hundreds of thousands of Kenyans from their communities indicate that the healing process will take much more than simply instituting political and structural changes. Long-time Kenya-watcher, political science Professor Edmond Keller of the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) says that Kenya’s recovery will depend on rebuilding a vibrant social order, but that amending the constitution to form a stable unity government is the first step toward that end.

“Politically and institutionally, we have to go through this process of changing the constitution, which should take about a year. And then a year after that, it’s expected that there will be new elections. But those are the steps that I think are immediate,” he said.

Professor Keller says that enacting terms of the power-sharing arrangement under a transformed constitution is key to setting in motion the agents that will bear the responsibility for laying the groundwork for Kenya’s recovery.

“The new constitution will have the terms of reference for that new prime minister’s position as well as two vice-prime ministers and the cabinet positions will be split among the two parties. And these are processes that have to proceed simultaneously. Right now it’s in the hands of the Kenyan parliament and the attorney general to keep them on track,” he said.

As a hindrance to recuperation, the bitterness of Kenya’s election dispute, in which Odinga’s Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) has charged President Kibaki of rigging his reelection, pales the ensuing violence and massive dislocation of Kenya’s population. With more than one thousand deaths and as many as six hundred thousand Kenyans chased out of their homes and communities, Keller says it is impossible to predict how long it will take to restore ethnic stability, resolve land disputes, and sort out the rights and privileges of Kenya’s social order.

“To say that very soon, people will be able to go back to their homes – it’s not a very realistic option at this point. I don’t think many people who’ve been driven out would feed comfortable, given the freshness of the violence perpetrated against them. So this is going to be a tough situation to settle,” he notes.

Regionally, Kenya’s role as an anchor for stability in a tense neighborhood surrounded by Somalia, Ethiopia, and Sudan is also being challenged by the past two months of crisis. UCLA Professor Keller says that he expects a combination of Kenya’s neighbors to step up and face regional challenges, with a greater share of the leadership role shifting over to Tanzania’s President, who currently serves as acting chairman of the African Union and played an important part in helping to resolve the Kenya crisis.

“You can’t talk about Kenya solely. You have to look at IGAD – Intergovernmental Agency for Development – which is comprised of the east African countries Ethiopia, Djibouti, Uganda, Kenya, Tanzania. And they have basically been a strong diplomatic force which has attempted to settle conflicts in both Sudan and Somalia. And up until now, Kenya was a leader in that particular group. But now it’s vulnerable. I see the mantle of leadership in the east Africa region falling to Tanzania and to their young president, Jakaya Kikwete,” said Keller.