Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Model for Antitribal Governance in Africa: Kenya's New Constitution

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

A Model for Antitribal Governance in Africa: Kenya's New Constitution

Article excerpt

A new Constitution that took effect Friday sets Kenya on a path toward reducing tribal differences - and violence. Other nations with ethnic rivalries can learn from it.

It's a rare day in Africa when a country tries to rid itself of political tribalism and embrace the grander politics of competing ideas.

But Kenya, with more than 40 tribes that are often at odds, did just that on Friday, at least officially.

Its elected leaders promulgated a new Constitution, one that promises to redistribute power and farmland in a way that may dampen the kind of ethnic rivalries that often hold so many nations back.

"From this day on, the people of Kenya should embrace a new national spirit; a spirit of national inclusiveness, tolerance, harmony, and unity," said President Mwai Kibaki to a massive crowd in Nairobi as he signed the governing document.

The charter was approved by more than two-thirds of voters in an Aug. 4 referendum. The peaceful voting in Africa's fourth-largest economy was in sharp contrast to the violence that broke out three years ago after a disputed election that reopened tribal tensions, leaving more than 1,000 dead.

Forced to accept foreign mediators to resolve that crisis, Kenya's politicians then decided for a radical remake of government through a new Constitution - one with useful ideas about civic values for other African countries.

The most radical idea is a reduction in the power of the presidency. Having a strong president often meant only one tribe was in a position to command the nation's wealth, leading to resentment and conflict - a common problem on a continent prone to "big man" politics.

Now more power will be given to regions in the national distribution of money, goods - and patronage. A new, two-tier parliament will put a check on presidential authority, with a Senate that will represent regions. …

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