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Kenya passes new constitution

National referendum votes to limit presidential powers, but the fight isn't over yet.

The lesson appeared to have been learned this week. As results were published there was no sign of  the kind of protests, rioting, looting, forced evictions and murder that followed the presidential election of 2007.

“All that violence, and no one got anything from it,” said Steven Kimani, a 22-year-old voter in Burnt Forest, one of the places badly affected by the post-election chaos.

The ‘Yes’ team, led by former foes President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga whose agreement to form a power-sharing government brought an end to the killings in 2008, declared victory on Thursday.

Spearheading the ‘No’ campaign was higher education minister William Ruto who conceded defeat saying that Kenyans had spoken.

Ruto denies accusations by human rights groups that he was behind some of the post-election violence committed by his Kalenjin tribe against Kikuyus in the Rift Valley. His acceptance of defeat will defuse tensions in his Rift Valley stronghold which voted overwhelmingly against the new constitution.

During the campaign, Ruto found unlikely allies in the Christian churches whose leaders urged their congregations to vote down the draft constitution because it permits abortion if the mother’s life is at risk. Church leaders also objected to ‘Khadi’ courts that judge Muslim civil matters saying they open the door to Shariah law in Kenya.

Despite the hope it offers for a fresh start for the country, the constitution is far from a panacea for Kenya’s deep-rooted political malaise as scores of laws — experts reckon around 60 separate pieces of legislation — will have to be passed to make the constitution a reality, leaving plenty of room for political sabotage.

“That will be a challenge because the conservative forces will start regrouping tomorrow,” warned Githongo. “But change will come, grimly and perhaps with the occasional convulsion but, step by step, it will come.”

A few miles outside Eldoret the need for change is all too clear. In front of one of three dozen little wooden crosses sinking into the soil on a plot of fenced-in land in Kiambaa is a spray of marigolds.

The flowers were planted by Grace Mukami, 32, to mark the spot where her eight-year-old daughter burned to death when Kalenjin men set fire to a church full of Kikuyus on New Year’s Day 2008.

The immediate reason for the Kelenjin attack was retaliation for the perceived "theft" of the election by Kibaki, a Kikuyu. The underlying reason was a long-standing belief that Kikuyus are "outsiders" who had taken traditional Kalenjin land in the Rift Valley.

It was the single worst attack of the post-election period and the wounds here are not healed. Just as there were armed officers on guard at polling stations on Wednesday to prevent a possible outbreak of violence, there is a new police post in the middle of Kiambaa’s divided community to deter attacks.

Makumi was voting in favor of the new constitution but feared it may bring little change, saying “It’s the politicians who destroyed the old constitution and they can wreck this one too.”