By Ray Fleming

ONE of the darkest times in Africa's dark history was seen at the end of 2007 when Kenya's flawed presidential election was followed by ethnic violence in which more than one thousand died and the country teetered on the edge of civil war. Wiser counsels prevailed and today the results of a referendum on constitutional changes are expected to show that the Kenyan people as a whole have voted for reforms that could give new impetus to the idea of Kenya as a modern multi-racial democratic country with strong economic prospects.

Some of the changes are radical -- for instance, reducing the power of the president and halving the size of the governing cabinet whose members will be chosen from outside parliament. One third of seats in all elected bodies will be reserved for women and much central power will be devolved to counties.

These and other reforms have been drawn up by Kenyan and other lawyers who worked from the recommendations made by a special commission chaired by the former UN Secretary General Kofi Annan in 2008. The referendum campaign has been lively with both the incumbent power-sharing president and prime minister calling for a yes vote while influential Church leaders surprisingly recommended rejection. Yesterday, with two-thirds of the referendum votes counted those in favour of reform had a more than 60 per cent share and a majority in all but one of Kenya's counties.