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Kenya constitution vote could pave way to stability

A key concern in the Kenya constitution vote is ethnic divisions. But in the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, where much of the 2008 postelection violence occurred, voters were calm and even top 'no' vote politicians accepted the results.

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Three US congressmen, all Republicans, launched an investigation into US government activities in Kenya, including printing of the constitution draft, to see if US agencies were illegally using US taxpayer money to promote abortion. (A thorough internal investigation by USAID, concluded in May, found that they were not.)

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Ethnic divisions

In the Rift Valley town of Eldoret, center of much of the 2008 postelection violence, voters remained calm, and church leaders and even top “no” vote politicians like Higher Education Minister William Ruto accepted the results.

“The first thing that’s going to be challenging in this now, is that the voting patterns have an ethnic angle. Most of the Kalenjins voted against this thing, almost to a man,” says the Rev. Maritim arap Rirei, an Anglican pastor in charge of community services in the Eldoret diocese. Voters didn’t see any reason to fight in this referendum, he says, but now voters will want to see positive change under the new constitution.

“The biggest challenge is dealing with a wounded, intimidated people, to make sure that they don’t feel that they have lost everything,” he says. “Delays will be a serious problem. If the dividends of a new constitution are not seen, then people will start getting frustrated. If there’re delays or procrastination from politicians in implementing this thing, we’d really have a greater problem before us.”

Maurice Odhiambo, a petty trader in Nairobi’s Kawangware slum, sees the apparent victory of the pro-constitution campaign as a “birth of a new Kenya.”

“The Kenyan people have shown that they can overcome differences and vote for something no matter if they are from the north, the west, the east or the south of this country,” says Mr. Odhiambo, reading a copy of the East African Standard newspaper, whose front-page headline reads “Yes It Is.”

“Now we have to look to our leaders in the Parliament, to the State House, to bring us what we expect from this new constitution,” says Odhiambo, saying he expects to see the return of land stolen by top politicians and the provision of basic services such as clean water and housing. “We can take them to court if they fail us. We are ready to do that, we are watching them. Time is short.”

In the Rift Valley town of Burnt Forest, Noah Keino watches the vote results on television in a tea shop. Nearly everyone in town opposed the new constitution, he says, because they fear that under a new constitution they will lose the land given to them by well-connected ethnic Kalenjin politicians.

“But we know that our side has lost,” he says. “We are watching, though. Politicians must not start playing their funny games. If that happens, there will be frustration.”