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Kenyans To Vote On New Constitution

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Kenyans To Vote On New Constitution

Africa

Kenyans To Vote On New Constitution

Kenyans To Vote On New Constitution

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Kenyans go to the polls Wednesday to vote on a new constitution. The charter tries to address various issues plaguing the nation, including presidential powers, corruption, land issues and tribalism. It's the first revision of the constitution since 1963 and Kenya's independence from Britain. And it's angered some powerful groups in the East African nation.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

You are listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News.

In Kenya, voters go to the polls tomorrow to say yes or no to a new constitution. It's the first national vote since December 2007, when a disputed presidential election sparked tribal clashes that killed more than a thousand people.

The new charter aims to address some of the issues that sparked the violence, as Peter Greste reports from Nairobi.

(Soundbite of music and singing)

PETER GRESTE: More like a victory party than a campaign rally, one of the final marches for the Yes Campaign makes its way through the streets of Nairobi - a sea of green - their signature color.

Prime Minister RAILA ODINGA (Kenya): (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of cheering)

GRESTE: At the rally, the Yes Campaign's cheerleader-in-chief, Prime Minister Raila Odinga, compares the struggle to a soccer match. First, the ball goes to Vice President Kalonzo Musyoka, who passes it to the deputy prime minister, Mudavadi. He sends it forward to Odinga himself, who passes it to President Mwai Kibaki. He shoots and scores.

Prime Minister ODINGA: (Foreign language spoken)

(Soundbite of cheering)

GRESTE: Opinion polls give the Yes campaign a two-to-one lead, ahead of their rivals. They believe the new constitution will plunge the country back into the dark days of tribal violence.

Minah Geragi(ph) was at the rally.

Mr. MINAH GERAGI: We have been yearning for the constitution for the last 40 years since the independence. This is our time now.

GRESTE: The constitution is the centerpiece of an agreement that ended the last round of tribal violence that erupted after general elections more than two years ago. Then more than a thousand people died, and a hundred more were forced from their homes. The constitution radically restructures the way power is distributed and tackles some of the issues at the heart of that crisis.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group #1: (Singing) No, no, no, no.

GRESTE: The No campaigners say it will make things worse, not better. One of the key issues, a controversial clause that says abortion is allowed only if the mother's life is in danger, but that, opponents say, clears the way for abortion on demand.

Another is the role that foreign governments, including the United States, have played in supporting the constitution. Ambassador Michael Ranneberger says the U.S. is interested in the process, not the outcome.

But at a No rally festooned with the color red, a speaker, Wilson Enjega(ph), said, it amounts to meddling.

Mr. WILSON ENJEGA: We love the Americans, but we don't want the Americans to interfere with the way (unintelligible)...

(Soundbite of cheering)

Mr. ENJEGA: ...because we are a free nation.

GRESTE: But the most sensitive issue of all is land. The constitution establishes a land commission that its authors say will take back land stolen under previous governments and deal with sensitive tribal disputes, but it's just that use of tribe as a defining element of land ownership that opponents argue will create a crisis.

Anti-corruption campaigner John Githongo believes the problem is most acute in two key provinces that have seen large numbers of settlers from other ethnic groups.

Mr. JOHN GITHONGO: Leading to tensions around land that are quite unique and easily manipulable for political purposes. In this way, politics can be militarized very quickly.

GRESTE: And that's what has some observers worried. The political interests, rather than individuals, may drive the country back to violence. Even so, the political temperature is nowhere near what it was during the last elections.

And analyst Kwenchete Makoke(ph) senses a new and hopeful spirit of compromise.

Mr. KWENCHETE MAKOKE: We are not necessarily having a revolution as it were, but everybody is willing to come to a negotiated middle ground, and everybody is saying - is giving and taking.

(Soundbite of music)

Unidentified Group #2: (Singing in foreign language)

GRESTE: For all the momentum the green Yes campaign seems to have, it may be that the pollsters are talking to people that Kenyans call watermelons - green on the outside, red on the inside - people who publicly voice support for the new charter and who may vote no in the privacy of the ballot booth.

For NPR News, I'm Peter Greste in Nairobi.

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