Leading article: A vote about more than a constitution

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The Independent Online

Do not make the mistake of taking yesterday's referendum in Kenya at face value. On the surface it was about proposals for a new constitution, which has been unchanged since British colonial powers pulled out. The plan was to remove some power from an over-mighty president and hand it to the prime minister and parliament. The orange party - fruit symbols were used to help illiterate voters - said the proposed constitution did not go far enough in this; the banana party said it did. In the end the citrus vote proved victorious.

But the vote was really about something else. President Mwai Kibaki came to power in 2002 on a wave of popular resentment at poverty and corruption under the 24-year rule of his predecessor, Daniel arap Moi. It was Kenya's first free and fair election for decades. Mr Kibaki's anti-Moi coalition promised four things: free primary education for all, the creation of 500,000 jobs a year, a crackdown on corruption and a new constitution.

He delivered on education; school fees were scrapped soon after the election. But although he made some progress on the economy, the jobs did not materialise. And progress on corruption was compromised. True, he initiated numerous corruption investigations, and appointed the respected campaigner John Githongo as anti-corruption tsar. But despite some slow progress in changing the culture of corruption among petty officials, it is still there on a grand scale among the most senior politicians - and with scams so huge they impact upon the country's macro-economy. Mr Githongo resigned mysteriously earlier this year and Kenya still ranks near the bottom of Transparency International's corruption index.

That left the constitution. So when the vote came on that, Kenyans took it as an opportunity to deliver a verdict on Mr Kibaki's performance overall. There were other factors too. There was personal rivalry; the president had reneged on a promise to make Raila Odinga, the other big figure in his coalition, prime minister as promised. There was the old tribalism: Kibaki got the support of his Kikuyu people, but not that of Odinga's Luo or Moi's Kalenjin as many voters cast their ballots along ethnic lines.

On the plus side, electoral officials reported a largely clean vote from Kenya's 19,000 polling stations, with just seven people killed in political rallies. And President Kibaki has announced he will accept the result. For Africa that is a kind of progress, as well as a measure of how far there is to go. It also means Kenya is probably now in for two whole years of fractious politicking and campaigning in the run-up to the next general election in 2007. No one said it would be easy.

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