Wangari Maathai in Oslo, 2004
As some of you may have heard in the news, voters have resoundingly defeated the Kenyan government's attempt to bring in a new constitution. Actually, many of those who said "no" to the constitution were in President Mwai Kibaki
's cabinet, so he has just fired all of his cabinet
, and the assistant ministers, among which is Wangari Maathai
, 2004 Nobel Peace Prize laureate and Lantern author
The central sticking point on the new constitution, which would have replaced the one drafted from the British model shortly after independence in 1963, was the power of the presidency. Kibaki, like every leader before him (and probably after him) favors a strong presidency; whereas others preferred a weaker presidency and powers devolved to a prime minister and a strengthened parliament. There were other conflicts as well, and the referendum itself turned into a vote on Kibaki's premiership as much a constitutional wrangle.
Depressingly, the vote also split along ethnic lines, with "yes"
voters (whose symbol was a banana) being overwhelmingly Kikuyus (the largest ethnic group) from the Central Highlands, and "no"
voters (whose symbol was an orange) being everyone else. What will happen now is that the constitutional review will start over, and there'll be some attempts to bring the "no" concerns to the table.
Maathai is in an awkward situation. A long time supporter of constitutional reform, a strong believer in a vibrant, multi-ethnic Kenya, she is, in my opinion, the perfect candidate for president, by which I mean an honorary position where the power is devolved to the prime minister. Then, like Mary Robinson
in Ireland or Richard von Weizacker
in Germany, she can exercise her considerable moral authority, guide the nation to a better place, and not get caught up in the grind of contemporary Kenyan politics.
The central problem, however, is how long the Kibaki government will last. Kibaki was already weak before the referendum, and he's even weaker now. If Kibaki's government brings back any of the corrupt thieves and crooks of Moi
's time (something that was threatened in April, when we were last in Kenya) then his government will fall, sooner than the scheduled 2007 elections, and there will be new elections. Who teams up with whom, where Maathai will place her considerable influence, and who will win is anybody's guess.