Friday, August 27, 2010

Promulgation Day!

Today is “Promulgation Day” in Kenya. What does promulgation mean you might ask? Well, technically it means an official announcement, but today it means an incredibly unexciting word being used to represent an unbelievably exciting and important day.

Kenya gained its independence from England in 1963, and at that time introduced its first constitution, largely influenced by its colonial occupiers. The next 40 years were filled with stilted efforts at constitutional reform, including the banning and then reinstatement of multiparty democracy, and a failed effort of reform in 2005.

On August 4 of this year, Kenya held a referendum on a new constitution and it passed by a significant margin. The constitution includes important sections on land reform, human rights, and a significant limitation on the power of the president and political party leaders. It is not perfect, but it is an incredibly important step in reforming the political, justice, and policing systems.

So back to Promulgation Day…
Today, the Kenyan government formally presented the new constitution to the public. News outlets have been calling it the 're-birth' of the country and there is a palpable excitement on the streets. The whole day is essentially a big party. More than half a million people crowded into Uhuru park for the formal ceremony. Lots of dancing, singing, speeches, cheering… and balloons.

I am watching on television from the comfort of my friend’s apartment, but can still appreciate the Kenyan oddities: white wigs for judges, Bashir of Sudan on the stage (yes his ICC arrest warrant should mean he can’t be in Kenya), and balloons that someone forgot to fill with helium.

Since this is my second day in Kenya, it’s now time for me to sign off, procure myself a cell phone, and get acquainted with my new city.

Welcome to Kenya, me! More to come on the journey later.