Does Kenya's 'yes' to new constitution signal new era?

Kenyans gave a firm 'yes' to a new constitution today. The rewards could be great – but the journey toward the dividends many Kenyans now expect may be rocky.

It’s official: Kenya has a new constitution. US President Obama immediately praised the country for its "significant step forward" after a "peaceful, transparent" nationwide referendum.

The final tally, released Thursday evening just over 24 hours after polls closed, was no great surprise. A little more than 67 percent voted in favor of the proposed draft, fairly close to the figure opinion polls had predicted throughout the months of campaigning.

Outside a central Nairobi conference hall Thursday afternoon, President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – bitter rivals in the 2007 general elections – stood shoulder to shoulder and addressed a crowd of hundreds.

Mr. Kibaki talked of people "joining hands" because a "historic journey we began 20 years ago is now coming to an end." The crowd cheered and cheered.

But that journey is not coming to an end. Great progress has been made today, but the path ahead toward bringing Kenyans the dividends they expect from their new constitution is likely to be rocky.

Central to concerns are new laws that need to pass through Nairobi’s notoriously snail-paced Parliament to enable the constitution’s provisions to be implemented.

Legislation can take months, years even, to pass from first reading to presidential assent (unless the MPs are voting to boost their pay, perhaps).

Today’s heartfelt celebrations across most of the country were probably laced with a measure of anxiety.

Will Kenyans see enough done, quickly, to head off frustration among ordinary people whose expectations are sky high?

It's easy to be skeptical – perhaps too easy. Outsiders in particular should not discount the chance that today heralds a new Kenya. The potential rewards for everyone, should things flow properly, are monumental.

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