• Irũngũ Houghton

Partitioning Kenya will not address ills: Upholding our Constitution will

First published Sunday Standard, November 19, 2017. Kindly reproduced here with permission from the Standard Group

Am I missing something or did Hon Peter Kaluma just pull a stunt similar to Daniel arap Moi and KADU in 1961? The go ahead by the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) for Kaluma to present his Succession Bill to Parliament or to collect one million signatures in support of his idea inches the country towards separation. In so doing, Kenyans could soon be asked to return to an idea that has been hovering around for several decades.

Kaluma’s bill gives legislative legs to David Ndiii’s controversial “Parting of the Ways” editorial in August. It seeks to redefine Kenya’s boundaries and separate seven counties in the Mount Kenya area from the rest of the forty counties. The bill cites ethnic discrimination, geographical inequalities, corruption and injustice to justify its call. The bill is the other twin to NASA’s latest strategy of creating People’s Assemblies. Four County Assemblies in NASA zones have already passed motions to do this and Coastal Governors are now raising their voice as well.

Like divorce and marriage, secessionism has been around almost as long as the nation-state. In Kenya, the calls have been driven by identity based politics and the fear of majority communities dominating minorities. Over the years, colonial settlers led by Michael Blundell, KADU leaders led by Daniel arap Moi, coastal KANU leaders led by Ronald Ngala, the Somali Northern Frontiers Districts Liberation Army and more recently, the Mombasa Republican Council have all called for succession from Project Kenya.

What is most interesting in this latest round is that the call would come from NASA, an alliance that has prided itself on carrying the mantle of Jaramogi Oginga Odinga. In the 1960s, Odinga was a fierce critic of secessionism. Over two decades of his life, the pan Africanist consistently challenged the colonial settlers, KADU and Somali secessionists on this issue. That the boundaries of Kenya are the way they are, is testimony to the late nationalist’s tenacity in the face of “Not Yet Uhuru”.

Secessionism has also changed the face of the USSR (Russia), India (Pakistan), Sri Lanka, Ethiopia (Eritrea), Morocco (Western Sahara) and very recently, Spain and Catalonia. At any one time, I was reminded this week, North America has two or three of its 53 states debating partition proposals. BRExit was all about this. Secession is, simply in vogue these days.

I agree with Kaluma’s diagnosis and disagree with his prescription.  Economic exclusion, identity based discrimination and corruption are a deadly cocktail of viruses that undermine Project Kenya. NASA needs to extend a county lens and inform their disappointment with the national context. Deep economic inequalities within counties exist across all 47 counties. Devolution has yet to flow past county headquarters to the periphery poorer wards.

Minority communities are no more respected or entitled to the same opportunities as majority communities in the counties administered by NASA than JP. Corruption risk assessments and reviews do not indicate a clear break in the quality of leadership integrity. Partitioning Kenya will not solve these ills. Luo or any Kenyans’ lives for that matter may not be safer or better off under this bill.

Tragically, the bill is rooted in what psychiatrist’s call “psychological withdrawal”. The symptoms typically include mood swings, agitation, stress sensitivity and a tendency to retreat into a corner. The bill may also be the political equivalent of grinding Panadol into a plate of expired food, eating it and expecting to be safe. The bill is currently not clear to its supporters. Is it a tactic to force a national dialogue, ostracize majority communities in the Mount Kenya counties or a coherent vision for the country to separate around? The case for the Bill makes all three perceptions valid.

There is a simple message for nation-building and state-craft in all this. Investing in national values, historical exclusion and national ownership fundamentally matters. Fortunately, this extraordinary country Kenya generates new opportunities every day. Like the weary punda, it rises every morning to pull its people forward when they, themselves, are at the end of their imagination and care for others.

Whether the Supreme Court nullifies or upholds the October 26 Presidential elections tomorrow, the option of dialogue towards a new future for all the people of Kenya still exists. We must #ChoosePowerfully.



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