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Page last updated at 13:53 GMT, Friday, 22 July 2005 14:53 UK

Kenya's fight for a constitution

By Ishbel Matheson
BBC News, Nairobi

Kenya's road to a new constitution, is littered with walk-outs, resignations, political intrigue, and legal high-stakes.

Protesters
Protesters say a new constitution would end 'Big Man' rule

On his inauguration day in January 2003, President Mwai Kibaki promised the Kenyan people - to wild applause - that they would have a new constitution within 100 days.

It is now nearly 1000 days later - and still no constitution.

The desire for a new constitution pre-dates Mr Kibaki's election. The review process started under President Daniel arap Moi, who led Kenya for nearly a quarter of a century.

A constitutional convention involving many sectors of Kenyan society, was convened at the Bomas of Kenya - a conference centre just outside Nairobi.

The draft resulting from this conference, is known as the "Bomas".

'Demi-god'

Activists perceived reform, as a way of clipping the wings of Kenya's strong-men leaders.

The goal was also to update Kenya's independence constitution, to offer stronger protection for the rights of the ordinary people.

Kenyan riots
Arguments over the constitution have led to riots
Organisers travelled the length and breadth of the country, canvassing the views of Kenya's diverse peoples.

Patrick Lumumba, the secretary of the Constitutional Review Commission of Kenya says one sentiment came across loud and clear.

"The Kenyan people were very certain. They wanted a president who was not a demi-god."

But hopes that Kibaki's new regime would deliver on its pre-election pledge for a new constitution, quickly began to fade.

The bickering between different factions of the Rainbow Alliance which backed Mr Kibaki intensified.

Davinder Lamba of the Mazingira good governance organisation, said, "Bomas became an area for playing out the power-politics that emerged over 2003".

President reluctant

At the heart of this struggle, was the famous Memorandum of Understanding.

This is a deal, supposedly struck between two then-opposition leaders, Mwai Kibaki, and Raila Odinga, leader of the powerful Luo community from western Kenya.

President Mwai Kibaki
Once elected, Mwai Kibaki did not want to reduce presidential powers
This agreement was reached prior to the landmark 2002 elections, when a united opposition swept Kanu, the party which had ruled since independence, from power.

The deal - done behind closed doors - guaranteed Mr Odinga, the as-yet-to-be-created position of prime minister, and Mr Kibaki, the presidency.

But since assuming power, the president and his allies have been reluctant to implement the alleged pact.

Awkwardly, for them, the draft constitution which emerged from the Bomas consultations, also recommended a powerful position of prime-minister, and a much-weakened presidency.

'Travesty'

However, last weekend, with a deadline of a parliamentary vote on the draft nearing, a group of MPs went to deliberate on the constitution at an Indian Ocean resort.

When their amendments were publicised, it sparked demonstrations and riots in the Kenyan capital.

Their version sought to maintain the authority of the president - and the new position of prime-minister is virtually powerless.

After a heated debate in parliament late on Thursday evening, the amended draft constitution was passed.

One opposition MP, Gideon Moi - the son of the former president - was ejected from the debating chamber, after he called the vote a "travesty of justice" .

What happens now remains unclear. Legal challenges to what some activists see as "parliamentary interference", are underway.

And the process may yet become bogged down in political manoeuvring.

But President Kibaki and his allies have shown their hand: no weakening of the presidency under his tenure.



SEE ALSO
Kenyan MPs approve constitution
22 Jul 05 |  Africa
Kenyan police battle protesters
20 Jul 05 |  Africa

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