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January 20, 2019

Policy failure will be the death of us

Secession call is politically a farsighted and deeply malicious blow aimed at the top leaders of two communities that have established an unbreakable duopoly on the presidency since Independence. /FILE
Secession call is politically a farsighted and deeply malicious blow aimed at the top leaders of two communities that have established an unbreakable duopoly on the presidency since Independence. /FILE

Although most Kenyans tend to be utterly obsessive about who will serve as our next president, it is actually the ideas that are embraced in elite political circles - and the policies and projects that flow from these ideas - which truly matter.

And right now, we seem to be on the verge of a potentially devastating illustration of how ideas can bring about the most monumental changes.

To provide context, let me first say something about the historic failures in policies and ideas in two of our neighboring countries, for which their citizens paid dearly:

First Tanzania: The nation’s founding President, Dr Julius Nyerere – acting from the purest of motives - tried to create a “socialist workers’ paradise” beginning in the 1960s through a policy of his own devising, which he termed “Ujamaa”.

The ultimate result was such severe economic stagnation that ever since, Tanzania has been struggling to recover from the near-universal poverty which was Nyerere’s legacy.

Then in Uganda, we had Dr Apollo Obote (initially Prime Minster at Independence, then later President) who believed that the Ugandan army was best led by men of very limited education. His reasoning was that his most senior soldier had to be an ignoramus who would never think of overthrowing him - but also enough of a brute to deal harshly with his internal enemies.

However, not only did the semi-literate Gen Idi Amin overthrow Obote in a coup, but he subsequently unleashed a genocidal reign of terror within the country, which decimated Uganda’s prosperous middle-class.

So, there you see the flawed economic policies of Nyerere, and the short-sighted schemes of Obote, inflicting on their countries a false start, and causing multi-generational damage.

Well, in Kenya the most intense and divisive debate now is not over the opposition leader Raila Odinga’s petition, currently before the Supreme Court. Indeed, this must be a uniquely humiliating moment for the Supreme Court judges: In any country at all, being invited to serve on the Supreme Court is the highest honour that any lawyer can aspire to. And yet now we find those who openly dismiss the weighty proceedings there as a mere sideshow.

The central debate now is, rather, on whether a substantial acreage of our country should break away from what currently constitutes the Republic of Kenya, and form a new, independent nation.

There is a revealing map associated with the official online petition for this secession project, indicating where the new international boundaries between the two nations should be drawn. Broadly speaking, the intention seems to be that of “the rest of Kenya” seceding - to leave behind only the traditional homelands of the Kikuyu and the Kalenjin.

Politically, it is a farsighted and deeply malicious blow aimed at the top leaders of these two tribal communities, which have established an unbreakable duopoly on the Kenyan presidency since Independence.

Online, the pro-secession crowd argues that the rest of the country, having endured “decades of tyranny”, should be allowed to create “a new nation with genuine democratic ideals and practices”.

The central complaint on the petition itself seems to be that “Successive Kenyan governments have perpetuated a culture of impunity through rigged elections that denies Kenyans from other tribes the ability to self-determine and even grow economically.”

When this idea of secession was first mooted last year by the celebrated Kenyan economist Dr David Ndii, I devoted a column to dismissing it as a harmless theoretical notion that may provide for an interesting hour or two at an academic seminar, but could hardly be taken seriously.

But now – and very much to my surprise – I see all the rage and bitterness arising from the recent election, focussing almost exclusively on this idea of secession as just the right solution to our deep and longstanding political divisions.

In 2010, during the writing of the new Constitution, all the prominent constitutional experts literally begged that we adopt the Westminster model, which would do away with the winner-takes-all elections which got us into so much trouble in 2007.

If we had taken the advice of these experts, would we even be having this discussion on secession at all?

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