Let’s abandon the counties for majimbo

Professor Yash Ghai says majimbo constitution Kadu wanted reflected concerns about protection from majoritarian tyranny and apportionment of political power to ensure minority participation

In Summary

• Power should be devolved to the regions.

• Each region should have its own legislature, executive and public service.

Making devolution succeed
Making devolution succeed

In Kenya, majimbo, or regionalism, evokes bitter memories of the country’s political past.

It is majimbo as a system of governance in post-Independence Kenya that pitted Kanu against Kadu, the two leading political parties at Independence in 1963. Majimbo manifested itself in ethnicity. The bulk of Kanu leaders and supporters were Kikuyu and Luo, the two biggest tribes at the time, while Kadu drew its support from leaders and supporters from the minority, especially from the Coast, Western and the Rift Valley.

Kadu wanted independent Kenya to be split into autonomous regions to preserve and protect the rights of the minorities.  Kadu leaders feared that the absence of such constitutional protections through majimbo would drive minority groups into perpetual exclusion from power.  


Professor Stephen Ndegwa observes that the prospect of the Kikuyu-Luo dominance was real since the two groups were larger, more politically conscious, and better organised than Kadu groups.

Professor Yash Ghai notes that the majimbo constitution Kadu wanted reflected concerns about protection from majoritarian tyranny and apportionment of political power to ensure minority participation.

Kanu, on its part, argued for a unitary and centralised state system of governance.

Despite Kanu’s protestations, the majimbo constitution was adopted in 1963.  

It was Kadu’s moment of triumph that was short-lived.  The constitution provided for the creation of a two-chamber national Parliament; devolved power to the provinces, each with its own legislature and executive; and each region would have its own police and civil service.

There was also a provision that any constitutional changes affecting regional powers would be approved by a two-thirds majority in the Lower House and the Senate.

When Kanu won the 1963 elections, its leaders feared that majimbo would curtail its political power. The process to abolish it began in earnest. President Jomo Kenyatta’s Kanu government crippled the regional governments by denying them funds and then in 1964, the majimbo system was abolished. This marked the process of building a party-state with an all-powerful presidency that ended with the reintroduction of plural politics in December 1991.


Five decades after, the dismantling of the majimbo system has not eradicated political ethnicity or fulfilled the notion of one nation the Kanu leaders had envisaged in 1964.

Majoritarian rule and domination of majorities persist. The National Cohesion and Integration Commission has issued periodic reports confirming this state of affairs, especially in the public sectors, including higher institutions of learning.

To correct these imbalances, the 2010 Constitution provided for devolution, which came into effect in 2013. In spite of the weaknesses obtaining in the counties, such as corruption, ethnicity, tribalism, nepotism and favouritism, Kenyans have something to be proud of about the system. It has enabled communities to make decisions affecting them at the local levels and empowered them politically and economically.

However, the coming of BBI forces us to re-think devolution and majimbo as systems of governance. The BBI report proposes a three-tier governance system that constitutes central, regional and county governments. Certainly, Kenya’s geographic size, population, resources and incomes can hardly afford this multi-layer system.  Devolution alone has been expensive:  Adding regionalism to it would be worse. It is time we re-think our governance system. We should abandon devolution and embrace majimbo.  

A two-layer system should do. Those layers should constitute central and majimbo governments. The majimbo I propose is not the type that at times invokes secessionist fears; rather it is one that should encompass all tribal and ethnic communities in those regions. Due to their smallness in sizes, counties have turned into cradles of ethnicity and tribalism. Majimbo should be the melting pot of all communities.

Our regions are individually and collectively endowed with diverse and abundant resources that, if properly utilised, should catapult Kenya to prosperity. These larger units should as well attract local and foreign investors to pave the way for economies of scale, availability of workforce, mass markets and consumption.

There have been concerns that regionalism would perpetuate careers of some elected leaders, notably second-term governors. But we should not curtail the constitutional rights of individuals in a new constructional dispensation.   Furthermore, the decision to retain or remove such leaders is in the hands of voters. Kenyans should decide.

There are two provisions in the original majimbo constitution that are still relevant today and worthy of adopting: Power should be devolved to the regions; and each region should have its own legislature, executive and public service. To protect regional powers, any constitutional changes affecting them should be approved by at least two-thirds majority in the National Assembly and the Senate.

The problem is not the people: It is the lack of political will on the part of leaders to effect people-driven governance systems. If majimbo is efficiently implemented, it could be the 'killer' of our ever-present political ethnicity, exclusivity, inequality, greed, nepotism, and all that has gone wrong in our country since independence.

Katana is a political commentator based at the Coast