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Conspiracy theories rife in wake of Kenya bomb blasts

Kenya analysts say Sunday's Kenya bomb blasts are an attempt to rile the political environment ahead of a referendum on a new draft constitution. Conspiracy theories abound.

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Opinion polls have so far found that 58 percent of Kenyans support the new constitution, leaving those opposed struggling to find new ways of winning their argument with voters.

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“Clearly someone was out deliberately to escalate tensions, to try to create a crisis, so that the environment for a peaceful referendum is not there," says Mr. Hassan.

“I’m sure we will find that they will fail.”

But some believe that Sunday's attacks could be a turning point. “If all goes according to plan the bombings should turn the tide of the entire campaign and win lots of sympathy for the 'No' brigade, probably enough to enable them to emerge victorious after August 4,” one blogger wrote on Mashada.com.

The question to ask, perhaps, is who benefits from attempting to keep the voters from the polls on August 4.

New constitution will upend the status quo

The draft before the voters would restrict sweeping presidential powers, strengthen the courts system, and overhaul policies seen as protecting powerful politicians alleged to have stolen vast tracts of land. So, a firm approval for the constitution, which would be enacted within a week of a 'Yes' result, would immediately begin the work of undoing decades of privilege and loot which has flowed to Kenya’s leaders.

This cuts across all sides in the debate, as there are few senior Kenyan politicians who have not had to defend themselves at some point against allegations of corruption or looting from the state.

If the constitution passes, land reform policies will be passed through Parliament, which will restrict the total area of property any one person can hold. And idle land must be seized by the state.

“Clearly those with the greatest vested interest in keeping the status quo are the guys who have benefited most from that status quo over the years,” says one European diplomat in Nairobi.

“So there’s been lots of chatter today that these bombs were planted on behalf of the elite, on both sides of the argument, to try scupper the whole thing under the provisos of a national security crisis or whatever.”

This theory is not so farfetched, says Mr. Mati of the Mars Group Kenya. “There are all manner of people who would want to see [the referendum] stopped,” he says.

Not a tribal dispute

Unlike the last constitutional referendum, in 2005, there is little sense of Kenya splitting down the middle according to tribe. Both the 'Yes' and 'No' camps draw support at leadership and grassroots levels from across Kenya’s 42 ethnic groups.

The Church congregations gathered for Sunday’s rally, and in pews the length of this majority-Christian nation, are a tribal polyglot.

Even Higher Education Minister William Ruto’s community, the Kalenjin, are far from united behind his urgent insistence that the constitution be shot down.

Kenyan history has shown, however, that entrenched interests with access to money are still able to buy loyalties and sow division whenever the country goes to the polls. Election violence in 2007 left 1,500 dead and 300,000 displaced.

Such volatility was recognized by US Vice President Joe Biden, who visited Nairobi last week and expressed America's support for the new constitution.

"As you prepare to write a new history for your nation, resist those who try to divide you based on ethnicity or religion or region – and above all, fear, it is a tool as old as mankind, and it's been used with great effect in this country in the past," Mr. Biden said.

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