Kenya has adopted a new constitution, more than three weeks after it was overwhelmingly approved in a national referendum… The document provides for greater checks on presidential powers and more regional devolution. It also recognises the UN human rights charter and creates a second parliamentary chamber – the senate.
It may seem a little unusual for me to provide commentary on a purely political story on this blog, which is purportedly about race, free speech, and religion (although somehow gay shit keeps creeping in… paging Dr. Freud). I’ve been following this story for a number of months now without commenting on it, but I can tell you that it’s highly appropriate.
First, there is a fundamental (and racist) misunderstanding we have in North America about Africa. The first thing to consider is the fact that Africa is not a country. You didn’t have to look much farther than the promotion of the World Cup to see that Europe and North America seem to consider Africa to be a homogeneous entity, but it is peopled by vastly different cultures and histories. There are modern democracies like Egypt, Algeria, South Africa, Ghana, Nigeria; there are corrupt dictatorships like Zimbabwe and the Congo; and there are dictatorial theocracies like Sudan and Somalia (the latter without a central government of any kind). Much of the strife plaguing the continent can be traced back to exploitation by colonial powers who used (and continue to use) the countries of Africa as a source of material wealth without building up the infrastructure needed to make the countries self-sufficient. Without the ability to harness their own natural wealth, the people of Africa are at the mercy of warlord-like governments who are largely controlled by foreign corporate regimes.
By ratifying a constitution, one that decentralizes the powers of the presidency and creates both a bill of rights and a second branch of government (ah, checks and balances), Kenya has taken a step towards true independence and freedom for its people. Such protections allow Kenya to (eventually) become a player on the international stage, much as Uganda and Ethiopia once were, and challenge the prevailing winds of prejudice against the continent.
Second, the ratification of this document was plagued by violent opposition, hate speech accusations, and (of course) religious conflict:
Church leaders who organised Sunday’s rally have also accused the government of being behind the grenade attack which led to a stampede. At least 20 people were injured in Sunday’s blast. Many Kenyans doubt the Church leaders’ claim that the government could be behind the blasts, especially as it seems most people are already backing the “Yes” campaign, says the BBC’s Will Ross in Nairobi… Sunday’s rally was organised by Christian groups opposed to a draft constitution because it retains recognition of existing Islamic courts and includes a clause on abortion.
But despite the obstacles, and despite Kenya’s entrenched religiousness (see? more gay shit!), the measure passed with a healthy 2/3 majority. This is the right step for Kenya, the right step for Africa, and the right step for the rest of the world.