Kenya ratifies new constitution
New charter will reduce presidential powers and address corruption and tribalism.
Last Modified: 27 Aug 2010 16:58 GMT

Al Jazeera's Catherine Soi reports from Nairobi, where people hope the constitution will change the country

The Kenyan president has signed into law a new constitution, which will significantly alter the east African country's power structure.

Tens of thousands of residents thronged Nairobi's Uhuru Park as Mwai Kibaki signed the documents on Friday.

In a referendum earlier this month, nearly 70 per cent of Kenyan voters approved the new constitution which addresses corruption, political patronage, land grabbing and tribalism.

The peaceful conduct of the referendum stood in stark contrast to a highly contested 2007 general election that degenerated into weeks of violence in which at least 1,300 people were killed.

But Mutula Kilonzo, the country's justice minister, said the adoption of the new constitution will usher in a "rebirth" for Kenya.

Checks and balances

The new law aims to devolve more power to local governments and guarantee the Kenyans freedom of expression under a citizens' bill of rights.

It also cuts down the president's enormous powers by setting up a US-style presidential system of checks and balances.

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Sam Kona with the Centre for Conflict Resolution in the capital, Nairobi, described the ratification of the new constitution as "a fantastic moment for Kenya".

"[The constitution] is going to put in place mechanisms of accountability and we hope to see an end to a culture of impunity, an era of transparency," he told Al Jazeera.

"It will also ensure that communities which have been marginalised over the years will get a chance to catch up with the rest of the country."

A land commission, with power to return illegally acquired property, will be set up under the new charter.

Though expectations that the new constitution will bring change are high, Paul Muite, a legal analyst, told Al Jazeera that the implementation of the new law might not be easy.

"The challenge is to continue with civic education so that people don’t expect instant coffee solutions. Life will not change overnight because we have a new constitution," he said.

"I have question marks of the capacity or political will of the current grand coalition regime to faithfully and fully implement the constitution.

"We’re likely to see a situation where they will be selective on those provisions of the constitution where they can implement because they do not touch on their personal interests."

Al-Bashir attending 

Several African heads of state attended the promulgating ceremony, including Omar al-Bashir, the Sudanese president, who is wanted for war crimes by the International Criminal Court.

The rights group Human Rights Watch had earlier called on Kenyan authorities to either "arrest him or bar him entry" if he were to attend.

Kenya is a signatory to the ICC treaty and, in theory, is legally obliged to arrest al-Bashir.

George Kegoro, director of the International Commission of Jurists, said Kenya is "under legal obligation to arrest Omar al-Bashir at two levels".

"Under the Rome Statute to which Kenya is a signatory, Kenya is obliged to co-operate and arrest al-Bashir and hand him over to the ICC," he told Al Jazeera.

"But also domestically, Kenya passed an international crimes act in 2009 and is again obliged to in terms of its own domestic legislation to co-operate in the arrest of Omar al-Bashir."

Kegoro said: "The invitation to al-Bashir to come to Kenya, which has been conducted in secrecy, is an astounding act of the worst possible faith on the part of the Kenyan government ... It's the worst possible judgement on the part of those who invited al-Bashir. They chose our best day to give our victory to al-Bashir."

The new constitution was a key provision of the power-sharing deal struck in 2008 between Kibaki and Raila Odinga, Kenya's prime minister and former opposition leader.

Both leaders backed the constitution in the referendum.

The "no" campaign said the text was favouring Muslims, abortion and certain tribes.

Al Jazeera and agencies
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