NEED OUR OWN PARTY

Revenue formula exposes to all the betrayal of Coast

"We are squatters in someone else’s house, and we can't expect them to respect us."

In Summary

• The golden target of regional parties must be first, to find a place inside government; and second, to have real influence at 'the big table'.

• Despite the Coast having given Raila the full weight of their votes in three consecutive presidential elections, Nyanza senators refused to join their coastal counterparts to obtain this benefit for the region.

Coast MPs at a press conference on Thursday, July 30. They accused Nyanza senators of betrayal during voting on Senator Irungu Kang'ata's amendment to the revenue allocation formula.
PUSHED UNDER THE BUS: Coast MPs at a press conference on Thursday, July 30. They accused Nyanza senators of betrayal during voting on Senator Irungu Kang'ata's amendment to the revenue allocation formula.
Image: EZEKIEL AMING'A

I have been a regular contributor to the opinion section of the Star for more than five years now, mostly focusing on matters affecting the Coast region.

And if there is one thing I have repeatedly emphasised it is that the only viable path to economic progress for the Coastis to have a regional political party dedicated to negotiating what I once referred to as “clear and quantifiable advantages” for the people of the region.

For although the Coast people  – the Taita, the Midzichenda (to use our proper name), the Swahili and many other smaller tribes – together have the same numbers as any of the so-called 'big tribes', we were unable to wield the same influence in national affairs, only because we did not have our own party.

 

Now, of course, political parties are, according to the 2010 Constitution, supposed to reflect the face of the nation. And that is fair enough.

But it is also perfectly clear that all the big tribes, from the very beginning of the return to multiparty politics, have always identified with one such 'national party' led by 'one of their own', which could be relied on to champion their specific regional interests.

In any case, the newspaper reports never shy away from referring to specific political parties as having a 'regional stronghold'.

This is another way of saying the people of that region tend to vote for that party because they feel it best represents their hopes and aspirations for regional progress.

In a country such as ours, all decisions that will have real impact on the lives of ordinary people are made 'at the big table',  so to speak, which partly means at the Cabinet level.

It also means that influence can only be exerted by those whom any  President considers to have been instrumental in getting him elected, and whom he must treat with respect, if he is not to jeopardise his legacy.

So, the golden target of regional parties must be first of all, to find a place inside government, and second, to have real influence at 'the big table'.

 

Anything else, including 'reformist' opposition politics, may well benefit the country at large over the long term, but it cannot help address the bread-and-butter  issues that concern ordinary people out in the villages.

 

I should also explain here that this is not really my original idea.

The late Coast 'mugogo' Karissa Maitha, who served in the first Kibaki Cabinet from 2002 until his untimely death in 2005, was my political mentor, and he repeatedly made this same point to me.

 

I must add two points here: Maitha was exceptional in that he was never intimidated by technocrats and professionals and he invited many of us to serve in his personal think tank to advise on how to bring economic progress to the Coast.

Second is that I shall always wonder why it is that every time the Coast manages to produce a leader influential enough to truly represent our interests at the national level, that leader does not get to do this for very long.

In the roughly 57 years of Independence, we have produced only two such leaders. First, Ronald Ngala in the 1960s, then Maitha about 35 years later. Both were to die prematurely and in highly suspicious circumstances.

But looking ahead, I must emphasise what Maitha told me: That the only way to end the historical injustices that the Coast had suffered over the years – the reckless land grabbing, the collapse of our regional cash crop economy,; the denial of economic opportunity — was by having our own party.

He was then in government and holding an influential Cabinet docket. But he believed all this was insufficient and what we really needed was 'our own house', politically speaking. Otherwise, we would be 'political squatters' no different from the 'land squatters' of the region who could without notice be brutally evicted from land their families had lived on since time immemorial.

He argued in favour of a strong regional party that would allow a leader like him to not only be a member of the Cabinet but also the leader of an independent political party, who had a right to make demands and insist on priorities.

But in all the time I have been writing, I have not been able to persuade the current crop of coastal leaders that it matters not if you will in the end ally yourself with Uhuru Kenyatta or with Raila Odinga or with William Ruto. What matters are the terms upon which your political alliance is built.

And the only political alliance that provides for an adequate foundation for negotiating an end to our decades of marginalisation is our own party, our own house.

Well, it would seem that God has answered my prayers.

We have recently seen a political drama in which what was at stake was a fine example of what I have defined as "clear and quantifiable advantages” for the Coast.

It was not something arguable such as whether an indigenous coastal should lead the Kenya Ports Authority. Nor yet was it about a few new appointments to parastatals of people from the Coast.

In the most uncompromising manner, the Senate debate of last two weeks was about whether the formula for distribution of county funds would be one that brings more development funds to the Coast, or one that would bring less money.

And despite the Coast having given Raila the full weight of their votes in three consecutive presidential elections, Nyanza senators refused to join their coastal counterparts to obtain this benefit for the region.

I am not going to speak of betrayal or injustice. I am going to make a very simple political statement here, which I hope all Coast leaders will take note of this time.

“We are squatters in someone else’s house, and so we cannot expect them to respect us. We need to get out and build our own house.”

Naomi Cidi is secretary general, Umoja Summit Party of Kenya