Kenyans Vote (Updated)

UPDATE: Polls have closed at 5pm in Kenya, 10am Eastern in the US. See new Gettleman story “Kenyans vote on new constitution”.

Follow the voting and results through live updates with this Global Voices page as well as at Uchaguzi.

My sense going into the vote is that the constitution would pass by a good margin and the level of violence would be relatively lower than feared. Things do seem to be going smoothly so far. Violence in the past has either been state-supported or tied to the misconduct in counting the votes. With what seems to be a serious effort by the security services to work against violence this time, reflecting President Kibaki’s apparent commitment, the environment seems quite different for this vote.

See Gettleman in this morning’s NYTimes on the atmosphere in the Rift Valley prior to the voting, and this story from the BBC.

Kenya–All over but the voting?

This is a little girl in one of the areas affected by violence in the last election. Please pray for a peaceful and fair election. Thanks.

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Watch reporting on Uchagazi.

The Daily Nation reports “It’s all systems go for Kenya’s referendum” (Subliminal “Green”/”Yes” message there?)

The Economist also has a late take on tomorrow’s vote: Kenya’s constitutional referendum: a chance to improve how Kenya is run

At the end of the day, they wisely conclude, much work remains:

Even if the constitution is endorsed by a fat majority, the dangers that have afflicted Kenya will not evaporate. There has been a lot of talk about peace. But the power-sharing government formed after the violence of early 2008 by President Kibaki and his rival, Mr Odinga, has dismally failed to address the main causes of instability: a lack of land and jobs. Far too many young men have no chance of getting their hands on either, especially in the volatile and tribally mixed Rift Valley and in the teeming, fetid slums of Nairobi. Many Kenyans fear that the anger of such people could boil over again in 2012.

A comment worth quoting:

Whatever the outcome in the plebiscite, we must put in place better mechanisms to hold leaders to account and stop this abuse and impunity. Leadership connotes serving as a faithfully fiduciary and finding the best solution to intractable challenges the nation faces. Good leaders are not necessarily those who brandish the sharpest intellect, or possess the most alluring visage, but those who, through determination, ingenuity and wise counsel, achieve the aims of the nation. These qualities are severely wanting in Kenyan leaders if the misery that bedevils the nation five decades after independence is considered.

We all know that even with a very good constitution, if we have poor leaders and people are not vigilant in holding them to account, Kenya will not make progress. What we need is a good constitution coupled with good leaders keen on fighting corruption, curbing negative ethnicity, appointing officials on merit and improving efficiency in the bureaucracy. We need a leadership that will abandon slogans and platitudes and work hard to lift the millions of people in want out of poverty.

Vote Count News from Somaliland

The party of President Riyale Kahin, UDUB, has called for a delay in announcing election results due to “huge irregularities“. Since then, a new AFP report this morning carries a statement from the President that he will step down if he loses the vote.

Thus much weight rests on the shoulders of the National Election Commission to maintain credibility and independence. It has been a long, hard and contentious process over a period of years to get to this point in terms of the composition of the NEC and the creation of a voter registration system from scratch in a “new” and unrecognized country with uncertain borders and much of its population nomadic.

We know from Kenya that a peaceful transition of power requires not only a willingness to step down by a leader who loses the vote, but also either a willingness by the leader to lose the vote in the first place or an independent election commission. In Kenya neither of the latter two conditions were met at the end of the day.

The President’s elective term in office ended as I was ending my term of service with IRI and we were opening our new office in Hargeisa. The serial delays and extensions have extended the time in office and it may be that we will now see a lot more about whether this truly reflected the best efforts to get the process right or as some critics suggested were more motivated by a wish to stay without a new decision by voters. It is encouraging that the President has made this new personal statement, which is certainly something that did not happen in Kenya during the vote counting. Although it has been awhile now since I have been there personally, I did feel that my colleagues and I had cordial working relationships with the leadership of all three parties and I would be personally optimistic about the sincerity of my friends in UDUB in making wise choices in a difficult time, serving the interests of the country as first priority–something we are all called to do to have a democracy.