The republic of Kenya borders Ethiopia, Sudan, Uganda, Somalia, Tanzania and the Indian Ocean, all in different directions. Kenya’s geographical area is almost the same as Texas, at 580,367 square kilometers. The country’s capital is Nairobi, with an approximate population of 2.9 million. Other cities and towns include Mombasa, Eldoret, Nakury and Kisumu. The country’s total population in 2010 was approximately thirty-nine million, with major ethnic communities, such as Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya and Luo, accounting for the highest numbers. A high (82.6%) percentage of Kenyan population is Christians, followed by Muslims at 11.2%. English is Kenya’s official language, while Swahili is the national language. There are other languages from over forty ethnic groups, such as the Nilotes, Bantu and Cushites. Despite having the largest and most diversified economy in East Africa, Kenya still lags behind in development. This is due to decades of discriminatory and corrupt governance, which exacerbates ethnic conflict leading to infighting, killing and low economic progress. This, in turn, affects all other areas, in which the poor section of the population suffers most. Half of the population is poor, being unable to access quality education, social amenities and health. The U.S government has been largely involved in Kenya’s affairs, ranging from the support it provides for better governance to the formation of projects that improve the lives of the Kenyan population. One of the most prominent involvements is the U.S efforts to push for Kenyan reforms, facilitated by the aftermath of the 2007 elections (Maxon 27).
After the 2007 elections, Kenya underwent violence that casts a shadow on relationships between political factions and ethnic groups. The UN Human Rights Commission documented that the primary triggers of this violence were irregularities in the process of election. In addition to this, there were other underlying triggers such as disenfranchisement, poverty and discrimination. In its report, the commission placed major accountability for the violence on the police and the poor Kenyan judicial system, which has historically indicated a failure in persecuting prominent criminals, including politicians (Pateman 32). Because of this, Kenyan leaders promised to pass reforms on several sectors of the country’s laws, including the judicial and police systems reforms, electoral reforms, and land reforms. Despite having these reform agendas in place, their implementation was delayed, because they were preconditioned on the country’s new constitution. The Kenyan government passed the Amendment Act for the new constitution in 2008. In order to facilitate this process, the government instituted a committee of experts, which was mandated with preparing a draft constitution for presentation in parliament. However, controversies continued to surround the committee’s commencement. Additionally, several commentators doubted parliament’s ability to put the constitution to referendum, following its then composition of the same individuals, who benefit from the unchanged government structures. All this slowed down the reform process, making other international bodies and countries such as the U.S to question the Kenyan government’s commitment to executing the reforms (Wanyama 11).
The United States and Kenya have had a historic partnership, in which the U.S has continually demonstrated support for the latter country’s multiparty democracy. Because of this good past relationship, the U.S did not hesitate in revealing its concerns over the delay in Kenyan reform execution. In July 2010, the U.S Ambassador to Kenya, Michael Rannerberger expressed the U.S president’s wish to see Kenya prosper by enacting the new constitution. The United States also commented that Kenya could only attract foreign investment by dealing with corruption and security issues, which would be easier if the Kenyan government executed its reforms (Opiyo & Doughman 32).
The U.S government’s involvement in these issues came under several allegations that it was funding “Yes” campaigns, which would ensure the constitution came to place. Under the American Siljander Amendment law, it is illegal for the U.S to lobby another country on certain matters, such as abortion. Therefore, the allegations surrounding the U.S support for the Kenyan constitution by spending close to $23 million were very serious and detrimental to Obama administration. However, these allegations did not deter the U.S involvement in pushing for Kenyan reforms. In June 2008, Obama sent the U.S Vice President, Joe Biden to Nairobi, Kenya, to encourage both the Prime Minister Raila Odinga and President Mwai Kibaki not to relent in their efforts to make the “Yes” campaigns successful. With this message, Biden relayed President Obama’s promise to visit Kenya if the proposed constitution became successful. This promise was significant to Kenyans, because Obama traces his roots to Kenya, his father’s homeland. In another effort to support the proposed constitution, which would enable the Kenyan reforms to be put in place, Rannerberger swore in thirty-six American Peace Corps, who had volunteered to discuss democracy, developmental and governance issues to the Kenyan population (Human Rights Watch 8).
In August 4, 2008, sixty-seven percent of Kenyans supported the proposed constitution b voting “Yes”, hence culminating the efforts of four decades. This was a historic day in Kenya, as citizens had fresh hopes for a better life. The new constitution would address various overdue concerns such as land use, concentration of executive power and the lacking checks, and balances. In addition to this, the new constitution created a smaller cabinet with fewer ministers, reformed the legislature by the creation of a senate and devolved significant power to county governors and governments (Oucho 42).
In conclusion, Kenyans as well as other international bodies and countries warmly welcomed the new constitution, hoping it would have great positive impact on the country. It is noteworthy that the U.S support had a great bearing on the way Kenyans voted for the proposed constitution. Support for democracy has been on top of the U.S priorities, especially for developing countries such as Kenya.