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Explosions in Kenya evoke past violence

A new constitution is considered long overdue. But it's still highly contested.

As the dust settled in Uhuru Park and emergency doctors tended to the injured, accusations quickly began to fly. ‘No’ and ‘yes’ campaigners blamed one another. The ‘no’ campaigners said it was an attempt to frighten their supporters, the ‘yes’ campaigners that it was an orchestrated attack designed to win sympathy. Church groups, like the ‘no’ campaigners, blamed the government for the attack.

“Having been informed over and over that the passage of the new constitution during the referendum is a government project, we are left in no doubt that the government, either directly or indirectly, had a hand in this attack,” the National Council of Churches of Kenya said in a statement. “Who else in this country holds explosive devices?”

President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga support the draft constitution, so do the majority of Kenyans according to opinion polls, but the Christian lobby is powerful, as are some of the politicians arrayed against them.

These include William Ruto, higher education minister, regarded as the flagbearer of the ‘no’ campaign. He is among the six called in for “hate speech” this week and is one of 19 politicians named in a public list of alleged perpetrators of the post-election violence.

Analysts say that many powerful politicians have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo or seeking to disrupt the planned referendum. Even before Sunday’s attacks there was evidence that some were willing to employ dirty tricks to undermine efforts at reform.

An early draft of the constitution went to the government printer only to emerge with a reference to “national security” inserted into the new Bill of Rights section. It was a ham-fisted attempt to undermine the very rights that the new constitution is designed to enshrine. A police investigation into who was responsible has led nowhere.

Senior government officials have called for calm and for Kenyans to wait for the result of the police investigation but there is so little faith in the police that people here are busily speculating over who
was really behind Sunday’s attack.

Macharia Gaitho, a commentator for the Daily Nation newspaper, expressed the opinion of many when he wrote: “If [the police] do not catch culprits within a reasonable time … I will have a license to draw my own conclusions based on who benefits from the murderous actions.”