Foreign Policy Watch

Geopolitical musings through a progressive lens …by Matt Eckel and Jeb Koogler

On the Passage of the Kenyan Constitution

Jeffrey Gettleman had a good piece in the New York Times earlier this week highlighting the lead-up to Kenya’s constitutional referendum (left: Kenyan voters lining up yesterday to vote.) The constitution, which passed today, appears to be a big step forward for the country, devolving power from the presidency to the parliament and undercutting a “winner-takes-all” system of government that has proven a source of tension amongst Kenya’s ethnic groups. The Obama administration, quite openly, came out in support of the “yes” position in the lead-up to the vote. This stance strikes me as quite logical. Non-violent democracy promotion should be a central platform of US foreign policy for both moral as well as more realist reasons. In practice, this means using diplomatic, political, and economic power to encourage gradual democratic reform. The use of USAID resources to get Kenya moving in a more democratic, pluralistic direction, towards a constitution that includes a bill of rights and increases power for parliament, is thus clearly the right move, and it’s hard to imagine that there would be those who would oppose this type of strategic use of aid.

Oh, but there are some who haven’t come on board. A number of Republicans — like Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey, the chairman of the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus — as well as evangelical Christian leaders, have opposed the new constitution — and the US’s support for it — because they believed that it will allow Kenyan women to get abortions. Yup, that’s right. Opponents like Representative Smith support a top-heavy, unrepresentative system of government in Kenya that, because of its design, has helped to exacerbate ethnic tensions and lead to broad-based unrest and political violence (like that which followed the 2007 elections)…because the system is uncompromising in its restrictions on abortion.

Am I the only one who finds it a tad bit ironic that Republican leaders and Christian evangelicals are more interested in the “rights of the unborn” than they are in the “rights of the living?”

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  1. Having studied in Kenya this summer, I'm cautiously optimistic. While I do support the passage of the constitution, I wasn't so supportive of Obama's blatant support of the 'yes' side. I worry that the personality cult that Obama has in Kenya skewed the vote somewhat (from firsthand experience, I'd say his approval rating in Kenya is a lot closer to 100% than his approval rating stateside), and might cause further unrest.

    Either way, foreign opponents are misreading the Kenyan opposition. While abortion is an important issue, Kenyans that voted no did so largely because the constitution allows the coastal region, which is predominantly Muslim, to maintain religious courts for small disputes. They're essentially incensed because they feel this gives Kenyan Muslims special treatment.