Kenya’s Obama invite

On August 27, tomorrow, there’s going to be a big, big party in Kenya. The date marks the signing of a new Constitution, and everyone from Desmond Tutu to Obama has been invited. "People are calling [this occasion] the rebirth — people are calling it the second republic," Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Elkanah ...

By , International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images
SIMON MAINA/AFP/Getty Images

On August 27, tomorrow, there's going to be a big, big party in Kenya. The date marks the signing of a new Constitution, and everyone from Desmond Tutu to Obama has been invited. "People are calling [this occasion] the rebirth -- people are calling it the second republic," Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Elkanah Odembo, told me on Tuesday.  "Heads of state have been invited, including President Obama [who] has received an invitation to attend the signing."

Kenyans approved the new Constitution overwhelmingly in a referendum on August 5. The new code will, among other things, move the country toward a presidential system and decentralize the civil service. Most analysts believe that the new framework will help consolidate stability in the country. Obama applauded the moves as well, releasing a congratulatory statement on the occasion: "This was a significant step forward for Kenya's democracy, and the peaceful nature of the election was a testament to the character of the Kenyan people. My Administration has been pleased to support Kenya's democratic development and the Kenyan people."

Which begs a question: Obama was said to have visited Ghana in praise of its good governance. This is arguably one of the most impressive democratic moves that the Kenya government has taken in decades. Will Obama show up in support?

On August 27, tomorrow, there’s going to be a big, big party in Kenya. The date marks the signing of a new Constitution, and everyone from Desmond Tutu to Obama has been invited. "People are calling [this occasion] the rebirth — people are calling it the second republic," Kenyan ambassador to the United States, Elkanah Odembo, told me on Tuesday.  "Heads of state have been invited, including President Obama [who] has received an invitation to attend the signing."

Kenyans approved the new Constitution overwhelmingly in a referendum on August 5. The new code will, among other things, move the country toward a presidential system and decentralize the civil service. Most analysts believe that the new framework will help consolidate stability in the country. Obama applauded the moves as well, releasing a congratulatory statement on the occasion: "This was a significant step forward for Kenya’s democracy, and the peaceful nature of the election was a testament to the character of the Kenyan people. My Administration has been pleased to support Kenya’s democratic development and the Kenyan people."

Which begs a question: Obama was said to have visited Ghana in praise of its good governance. This is arguably one of the most impressive democratic moves that the Kenya government has taken in decades. Will Obama show up in support?

The answer is not likely; Obama’s on vacation. But says John Maina, President of the Diaspora association, Kenyan Community Abroad Obama has been supportive in other ways. In an e-mail to FP, Maina declined to comment on whether the president should attend. "I believe President Barack Obama will send a message of hope and unity to our leaders and country. … The U.S. government played an important role during the making of this constitution and I sure her blessings will not be forgotten by Kenyans."

There’s reason to believe that this will be literally the celebration of a lifetime in Kenya, whether Obama goes or not. "The level of excitement of the people who were in the country in 1963 when the British flag was brought down and the Kenyan flag went up — it is that level of excitement [now in Nairobi]," said Odembo. Also in attendance will be at least 10 African heads of state, including the presidents of Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda and Burundi. And maybe one of these days, Obama too.

Elizabeth Dickinson is International Crisis Group’s senior analyst for Colombia.

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