An Important Decision Awaits the Kenyan Electorate

Kenyans are preparing to amend the country’s 2010 constitution, with a referendum tentatively scheduled for June 2021. The amendments focus on ensuring shared prosperity, managing ethnic diversity, and avoiding divisive elections. They were first proposed in the Building Bridges Initiative report, which came about after the country’s election stalemate of 2017. Much of the debate is around ethnic representation in government, equitable sharing of resources among Kenya’s diverse ethnic communities, and the role of the current political elite in future governance structures. Ethnic recognition is less common in Africa than in other regions. Still, there are notable instances of recognition on the continent like Burundi and Ethiopia. Many wish for a foolproof recipe for managing diversity in conflict-affected contexts. There isn’t one. But Kenyans are not alone in debating best strategies. A new book, Diversity, Violence, and Recognition: How Recognizing Ethnic Identity Promotes Peace, offers accounts of other countries’ experimentation and reminds us that constitutional moments are high stakes and that institutional choices matter.

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