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Kenya votes on constitutional change

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Kenya votes on constitutional change

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Kenyans have voted for a new constitution that could reshape the political landscape in east Africa’s largest economy.
 
The new constitution replaces the previous one bequeathed by former colonial power Britain at Kenya’s independence in 1963.

The changes were backed by Prime Minister Raila Odinga. The new draft constitution was drawn up by the current coalition government of President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Odinga.

It is a union based on compromise in the wake of the political violence following the election of December 2007, which claimed the lives of 1,500 people. Both leaders agreed to frame a new constitution to strengthen existing legislation and avoid any repetition of the bloodshed that rocked the country in 2007.

Before the vote, euronews met Prime Minister Odinga on a visit to France.

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“Prime Minister, welcome to euronews.”

Raila (Amollo) Odinga, Kenyan Prime Minister:
“Thank you.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“Could you outline the major changes, this new constitution will bring to Kenya?”

PM Odinga:
“For the first time, Kenya is going to have a presidential system, a pure presidential system of government, where you have a president elected together with a vice-president and a cabinet appointed from outside parliament. Thus a clear separation of powers between the executive, the legislator and the judiciary. So we say that for the first time, Kenyan’s have a governance structure, that will ensure that there are checks and balances in the system. And it will ensure that the abuse of power, which we have seen in the past, as associated with authoritarianism and imperial presidency, are things of the past.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“But isn’t this new strong presidential position for one strong man a temptation to monopolise power?”

PM Odinga:
“Not really, in the past, power was removed from the periphery to the centre through constitutional amendments, which made the presidency so powerful it dwarfed all the institutions of governance because there were no other checks. In the current draft constitution, first there is a legislator, which has been given large powers. All the presidential appointments, the senior ones, are subjected to the vetting by parliament. So the kind of checks that there are in this draft constitution are very similar to those in the American constitution.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“If Kenya creates this new strong presidential position, somebody has to be chosen to occupy it – are elections planned for soon?”

PM Odinga:
“If the new constitution is adopted, elections will be held at latest by August 2012. And this will include all the elections: civic, counties, senatorial, parliamentary and presidential elections.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“Will you be running for president – again?”

PM Odinga:
“I’m not sure if I will run. Because, you know, we have a multi-party system. And for one to run, one must be nominated by his or her political party. So, if my party nominates me – then of course I will be prepared to run. If I’m not nominated, I will support whoever will be nominated.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“Do you think the loser will be prepared to accept defeat?”

PM Odinga:
“This is what we’re trying to clear now: that the losers must be prepared to accept defeat, because the elections are going to be fair. But it has been happening a number of cases that elections are rigged – that’s why you find in many African countries that people are not willing to accept defeat. Now we are trying to teach Africans, to understand the lessons of democracy: that in any kind of election, in any kind of contest, there must be winners and losers. And that if you lose fairly, it is not the end of the game. You know, he supports the winner and than he will win sometime in the future. This is how democracy is built. Elections should not be wars, they should just be competitions just like any other game – like a football game. The winner must be prepared to shake hands with the loser.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“Last year’s droughts have proven it: Kenya is extremely sensitive to climate changes. Your country also has the ambition to play a leadership role in ‘turning Africa green’. What exactly is on your green agenda?”

PM Odinga:
“Our green agenda is fairly comprehensive: We’re trying to look after alternative renewable sources of energy, as opposed to using the fossil fuels. And here, the options we have are – one: geothermal: We happen to be one of those fortunate countries in the Rift Valley that have geothermal potential. It’s estimated that we have about 7,000 Megawatts in the Rift Valley. Then wind is another. And we have a wind atlas for the country, It shows that we have very good wind speeds in several parts of the country. So we’re trying to also introduce wind turbines to generate electricity. There is already one project of 400 Megawatts which is under way for construction. Then there is solar: as you know, Kenya is at the Equator – with 12 hours of sunshine on a daily basis. We hope this is a way in which Africa can contribute immensely to the fight against global warming.”

Olaf Bruns, euronews:
“For poor citizens of a poor country, are environmental issues really a priority? Hasn’t the priority to be on industrial development?”

PM Odinga:
“Those other countries which have become industrialised were pioneers, at that time the consequences of the side effects of industrialisation were not known. So we’re saying that countries which are industrialising now, with the knowledge of the consequences, need not repeat the same mistakes of the past. So, yes, we’re saying industrial development is the aim, but you can actually achieve it through clean energy.”