Sunday, August 8, 2010

Kenya Votes on a New Constitution

Referendum day was a very exciting time here in Kenya! All eyes from around the world were watching as Kenyans cast their votes. At ARO Centre, it was a very quiet day, as many people had to travel to their rural homes for voting, and would not return until late in the day or the next day. Patric, Rodgers, Kevin, and I spent most of the morning in the lab watching movies. I just relaxed in the afternoon and went for a walk around the area here and it was nice to get out of ARO for a bit. In the evening we were back for more movies, and we spent quite a while watching the news as the preliminary results came in. By the time I went to sleep, "Yes" was in the lead with about 66% of the votes. No violent incidents were reported, and things seemed to have gone smoothly. Most of the people I spoke to about the violence of the last election said that the Kenyans had learned from last time and they did not want that to happen again. People were very much taken by surprise when the violence broke out in 2008, and this time around, everyone was paying attention and doing his/her part to ensure that the situation remained calm. I think it also helped that this vote was less along ethnic lines than last time.

On Thursday, there were a few press conferences in which the "Yes" and "No" camps made statements, as did leaders of several of the churches. William Ruto was the de facto leader of the "No" camp. He is the Minister of Education and comes from the Rift Valley region (central point of violence last time around). He has been advocating for "No" based on a clause about abortion and some issues with the sections that concern land reform. However, Ruto spoke on Thursday about all Kenyans being winners and that we need to work together to implement the new constitution effectively. He is also actively working on developing some amendments to the parts that he took issue with. Most of the churches in Kenya were also advocating for "No" because of a clause in the constitution regarding abortion. While the constitution says that abortion is not permitted, unless the life of the mother is in danger, church leaders have been speaking out about how this will open the door for widespread abortion. They did not seem to be so effective, though, as most people chose to vote based on their political ties and not their spiritual ones. Overall, it was a great day for Kenya and the vast majority of people are excited about the possibilities of the future.

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