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African fruit basket

"African fruit basket" Continued...

Issue: "Rita: After the storms," Oct. 8, 2005

"It is likely it may be pushed in the future," Paul Ndemo, president of the Kenya Christian Lawyers Fellowship, told WORLD. "But maybe not in the near future. There is nothing to stop anyone [from] mustering that kind of support to enhance the powers of Khadis' courts." The easiest avenue could be through the local level: The new constitution devolves more power from Nairobi to the districts. If districts are allowed to determine the role of religion, then muscular Khadis' courts-and even full-blown Shariah-look possible. That would put Kenya on track to follow Nigeria's path, where the establishment of Islamic law in northern states has fanned inter-religious and cross-state violence. Ms. Muinde is adamant, however: "We don't want to make the mistake Nigeria did or Sudan did."

Christians-and the nation-are also absorbed in other political aspects of the proposed constitution. The drive for a new constitution began some 15 years ago when then-President Daniel Arap Moi's political opposition feared too much power rested in his corrupt presidency. They saw penning a brand new constitution as the only way to rectify the balance of powers, hoping to create a strong prime minister's position and weaker president.

Current President Mwai Kibaki came to power by promising a new constitution within 100 days if Kenyans elected him. Only now-three years later-is he delivering on that vow. But he seems to have broken other deals: Diverse opposition leaders agreed to join his winning "rainbow coalition," banking on a constitution creating a powerful prime minister. Instead, the draft retains the presidency's strength.

Some politicians in Mr. Kibaki's administration revolted, rallying against the proposed constitution even while their boss campaigns for it. In an effort to draw in illiterate Kenyans, the referendum ballots will picture a banana for a "yes" vote and an orange for "no." The symbols have turned the constitutional debate into a food fight, with leaders brandishing the fruit at rallies and speaking of "banana republics" and "orange revolutions." For fruit farmers, supplying both sides with campaign paraphernalia has turned into a windfall.

Such politicking is bad news for Kenyans: In these countdown weeks before the referendum, public education on the constitution was supposed to take center stage. Instead, "people are taking positions now based on what politicians are telling them . . . it's this camp against this camp," Mr. Ndemo said.

Other worrying articles in the constitution on religion could also propel Christians to vote orange. The bill of rights article guaranteeing equality, for instance, is "qualified strictly" for Muslims applying Islamic law-another distinction singling out one religion in the secularly governed nation. Ironically, Muslims too are mobilizing against the constitution, dissatisfied with the weakened provision for Khadis' courts.

"We had asked for a stronger court. . . . We are not happy with this," said Sheikh Haroun Rashid of the Council of Imams and Preachers of Kenya, quoted in the East African Standard on Sept. 12.

Whatever the fate of the constitution, the battles it spawned have put Christians on alert, a good start and a model for other nations facing the spread of radical Islam. More showdowns with the Muslim community are likely to be ahead: "We are just beginning," Ms. Muinde said.

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