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February 18, 2019

Ethnic Devolution Is Killing Kenya, Not Developing It

As we review Kenya’s devolution after one year of implementation, we must remember recent demonstrations of hawkers and small traders everywhere from Mombasa, Nairobi, Nyeri, Nakuru, Meru and elsewhere against county assemblies, governors and executive committees for charging people unaffordable land rates, burial, parking, license and prayer fees.

Though these demonstrations have subsided, it is not because problems that caused them have disappeared but because Kenyans’ will to fight is not consistently high.

As people have been losing confidence in the betterment of their lives by devolution because of exorbitant taxes, they are also disillusioned because they have witnessed devolution of graft, police tyranny and ethnic discrimination from the centre to counties and busting of the myth that professionals and senior civil servants would make better governors than politicians and reformers.

Where then are we with devolution? Are we getting what we asked for from devolution or are we getting stones for bread, scorpions for fish, hell for heaven and majimbo for devolution?

Even before independence in 1963, conservative leaders called for majimbo or ethnic federation, which we call devolution today. While majimbo and devolution have different names, they have the same content.

To be precise, majimbo was imposed from Lancaster House in England by colonial masters. Majimbo created a homeland for every ethnic community. Even European settlers had White Highlands for their homeland.

People of different communities would own land only in their own majimbo or ethnic homelands. Ethnic homelands would have citizens or wazawa that would be from the community that dominated jimbo and foreigners from minority communities in the jimbo.

The ideology of the jimbo has always been negative ethnicity that undermines nationalism; the ideology of the nation of Kenya. Majimbo was championed by European settlers and smaller ethnic communities in the Kadu party that was led by Daniel arap Moi, Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala, and feared domination and marginalisation by the bigger communities who would be confined to their own majimbo.

Majimbo was opposed by Kanu nationalists led by Jomo Kenyatta, Raila Odinga, Tom Mboya and others. They wanted Kenyans to live and own land everywhere in Kenya.

As Moi would later convert into nationalism, nationalists were right then and still are today in their view of majimbo. To enhance national integration, majimbo was abolished after independence.

When the debate on majimbo resumed after the restoration of multiparty democracy, the concept of majimbo was called devolution or ugatuzi. When devolution came after the new constitution, it refused to be called majimbo or tribal homeland.

Though 47 devolved units or counties were drawn along colonial ethnic boundaries, it was denied that its residents would have foreigners and citizens.

The core purpose of devolution was claimed to devolve power and resources to the grassroots. It was also said that Wanjiku would enjoy more power and self rule through county governments and assemblies.

As Kenya was at crossroads, it could go the way of the non-ethnic way of devolution or go the way of colonial majimbo and Nigerian ethnic devolution that started with 3 multi-ethnic states and now has nearly 36 states that aim at being mono-ethnic.

Unfortunately, though pronouncing otherwise, Kenyans chose to go the majimbo and Nigerian way to the realisation of our worst nightmare that Kenya would finally disintegrate and die as a conflict ridden majimbo country.

This decision may have been made in secret but it was made. It may not be publicly admitted but it was made. This decision may even have been made in the naïve belief that it was the best solution to our problems, but also deliberately, not for the benefit of masses but to politically stabilise the country by accommodating ethnic elites who lost elections and could not be accommodated at the national level.

Despite assurances that they would accommodate everybody, counties have become tribal homelands that are driven by the ideology of negative ethnicity that made sure that every community had its own homeland or homelands.

However long it took to take shape, Kenyan devolution is now majimbo with Kenyans of different ethnicities living in the same county categorised as citizens and foreigners while people in counties of same ethnicity are discriminated against for having come into the county from other counties of the same or different ethnicity.

In people’s political consciousness, media has already used negative ethnicity to kill Kenya and replaced it with ethnic identities and homelands. In counties, Kenyan identity is not only disregarded, second-classed and demonised but also brushed aside as enemy identity.

Falsely credited for bringing power and resources to grassroots, counties have devolved resources and power not to Wanjiku but elites of the county.

Worse, through taxes and graft, under devolution, common people are as oppressed and exploited by county governments as they were by central governments. In fact, under devolution, common men and women suffer double oppression and exploitation from both central and county governments.

As intended, ethnic elites are primary beneficiaries of devolution, county governments and resources, not ordinary people. Indeed, ethnic elites are no lesser exploiters of their grassroots and ethnic communities than national elites but are demanding exclusive rights to that exploitation.

While exorbitant taxes alone don’t make ruling elites like those of Scandinavia that return taxes to people as development evil, it is the exclusive misuse and theft of those taxes that makes both the elites and their unaffordable taxes evil and hateful. Devolution that facilitates theft cannot be the devolution that people wanted. County governments are no longer yearned. They are loathed by voters who voted for them only one year ago.

In the meantime, the power struggles we witness in the media everyday are not about how best county governments can serve people but how county and national elites can share power and resources they have looted from people.

To avoid the tragedy of distorted devolution, the constitution should have been written in such way that its implementation would create no problems for unity of the country; occasion a struggle for power between governments of devolution, Senate, National Assembly, Executive and the Judiciary; should not have allowed negative ethnicity to be the ideology of devolution to the detriment of Kenya and nationalism and should not have conceived devolution that would allow it to degenerate into majimbo.

Ultimately, devolution of, by and for the elite will do more harm than good to common people. It will put elites into power to exploit people and kill Kenya that is united and above tribe.

Unless Kenyans get the right people to manage devolution, it will do nothing to develop Kenya. Instead devolution will be just another avenue of the elites to exploit the poor of all communities and multiply their poverty and misery.

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