Kenya's President signed a new Constitution into law on Friday that institutes a U.S.-style system of checks and balances and has been hailed as the most significant political event since Kenya's independence nearly a half century ago.

Kenya's new Constitution is part of a reform package that leaders there committed themselves to after signing a power-sharing deal in February 2008. That deal ended violence that killed more than 1,000 people following Kenya's disputed December 2007 presidential vote.

Friday's event comes after an overwhelming majority of Kenyan voters adopted the new Constitution in an August 4 referendum. President Mwai Kibaki's signature formally marks the end of a decades-long struggle to cut down the massive powers of the presidency.

The government and Parliament now must implement the ambitious document, a process expected to take up to five years. The document requires, among other things, the formation of a Supreme Court and a Senate. It also demands that the judiciary be vetted to rid it of corrupt or incompetent judges and that Parliament pass 49 new laws.

The Constitution alters the governance structure by introducing 47 counties. The Senate will be composed of 47 members each elected from the counties, 16 women nominated by political parties, two members of different gender to represent the youth and two members of different gender to represent persons with disability.

The country will still be ruled by an executive President, but he will be constrained by checks and balances and the Senate will vet key appointments made by the President. The President and Senate will have fixed terms, with elections every five years.

Emmy Kosgey, who sang during the festivities and got all the VIPs dancing at the podium, said the signing of the constitution signified a new beginning for the country and she was proud to be part of it. “Most of us have grown up reading about such events as history,” she said. “But today we are a part of history.”

Bashir's presence

Joining African leaders at the festivities was Sudan's President who faces charges of genocide and crimes against humanity in connection with violence in Darfur, where U.N. officials estimate 300,000 people have died.

It is only the second time that Omar al-Bashir has risked arrest by travelling to a member state of the International Criminal Court since he was first charged in 2009.

Human rights groups had urged the Kenyan government to bar Mr. Bashir from the festivities but Kenya's Foreign Minister defended Mr. Bashir's presence.

“He is a head of state of a friendly neighbour state,” Foreign Affairs Minister Moses Wetangula said. “We invited all our neighbours and they honoured the invitation.”

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