NATIONAL QUESTION

The state, nation and inclusion in Kenya

In Summary
  • What does it mean to be Kenyan? As an individual or a nation what is in Kenya for me or us? What do I expect from Kenya? 
  • Should we continue to cheer endlessly when we are excluded and when resources and appointments are allocated almost exclusively to chosen nations in the country?

In Kenya national exclusion has created the feeling of marginalisation and exclusion on the part of some and a misplaced supremacist and hegemonic mentality on the part of those who feel ‘covered by the cloth of the state’. If we are to resolve our current crisis, we must tackle this national question.

The use of negative national (ethnic) ideologies to capture, retain, misuse and abuse state power and public resources, positions and opportunities for the benefit of a small ethnic cabal has been an ever-present characteristic of all Kenyan regimes since Independence.

Perhaps it is this, more than anything else, that threatens our continued existence as a united country. We remember Jomo Kenyatta’s Kiambu Mafia, Daniel Moi’s Rift Valley Mafia and Mwai Kibaki and Uhuru Kenyatta’s Mt Kenya Mafia.

Mahmood Mamdani has noted that western scholars and media generally refer to nations in their former colonies as tribe or ethnic group. They use the term nation for European groups. In Kenya national exclusion has created the feeling of marginalisation and exclusion on the part of some and a misplaced supremacist and hegemonic mentality on the part of those who feel ‘covered by the cloth of the state’. If we are to resolve our current crisis, we must tackle this national question.

It is therefore important for us to understand the basic concepts involved in the national question. Kenya is a country composed of different races and nations.

A nation is an historically formed large and stable community that shares economic life, culture, history, language and in many instances live in the same geographical area. Many nations that existed in biblical times no longer exist. In Kenya the Kalenjin and Luhya nations have only existed since the middle of the last century. A state is an organised group that controls the behaviour of people in a geographical area and in many instances is recognised by other states.

The national question is about how nations coexist in a country. It is worth remembering that Kenya is a colonial creation and the national question was not negotiated at Independence in 1963. Attempts to negotiate the issue in independent Kenya have not gone very far. The Constitution of Kenya 2010 has attempted to address this issue. However, politicians in Nairobi have very robustly tried to defeat and reverse this attempt.

Politicians often proclaim that we must think and act nationally. They aver that they are not tribal. The reality is often very different from these hypocritical proclamations. If we do not address the national question adequately then we are destined to go the Yugoslavia way.

We, as individuals and nations, choose to continue living in Kenya. Our nations have the right to freely determine their own destinies. The right we do not have is that of trampling on the rights of other nations.

What does it mean to be Kenyan? A visitor who resides in Kenya for five years continuously qualifies to be a Kenyan citizen. As an individual or a nation what is in Kenya for me or us? What do I expect from Kenya? What does Kenya expect from me? Should we continue to cheer endlessly when we are excluded and when resources and appointments are allocated almost exclusively to chosen nations in the country?

At Independence, because of the shared experience of colonial subjugation, it was thought that in order to mould a monolithic Kenyan nation, we had to suppress our various national aspirations.

However, our leaders who were entrusted with the task of building the country instead created a cabal from their own nation, which captured the state for private aggrandisement. They essentially captured and privatised the state. They structured state organs and institutions around their national and personal interests. Paradoxically, these same institutions were supposed to mould a united Kenyan nation.

In South Africa, Belgium, Switzerland and other states, which are multi-national, state ideology recognises individuals and nations. The law ensures equitable access to opportunities and resources by all individuals and nations. This way, it is less likely for the institutions of the state to be structured around the narrow interests of a few nations.

We, as individuals and nations, choose to continue living in Kenya. Our nations have the right to freely determine their own destinies. The right we do not have is that of trampling on the rights of other nations.

The 2010 Constitution has brought about devolution and counties. This is an attempt to institute the rights of our nations to arrange their lives on autonomous lines. The BBI initiative seeks to increase the allocation of national revenue to counties from a minimum of 35 per cent from the current 15 per cent. Is this enough, why does the national government need to keep 65 per cent?

If we are to institute a bottom-up economy then we should be talking of 65 per cent to counties.

Furthermore, how do we redress the suffocating role of the national government Treasury in the transfer of funds to counties? Should we not have an independent treasury that funds both national and county governments?

We must sit down as nations and renegotiate Kenya.

Former chairperson, Centre for Multiparty Democracy-Kenya