Sadly, nationalism vs countyism emerging as new ideology in Kenya

The revenue sharing debate and split between populous and sparcely populated counties demonstrates that devolution is in danger

In Summary

• The debate has narrowed down to a contest between populous and less populous counties, such as Central vs Northeastern.

• This means that going forward, there is the potential to witness a shift from a nationalist to a tribal and county-based orientation for political contestation.

Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen chats with Senators Kithure Kindiki and Johnson Sakaja outside the Senate on August 4.
WHO WINS? Elgeyo Marakwet Senator Kipchumba Murkomen chats with Senators Kithure Kindiki and Johnson Sakaja outside the Senate on August 4.

ODM leader Raila Odinga has returned into the political scene after treatment abroad and rest for the last one month and a half.

This is interesting since  it raises the question of the effectiveness of our hospitals in treating all Kenyans the same. Health is a devolved function, and if we were making progress, then we would have had world-class hospitals, rather than having Raila seek treatment in Dubai.

On the other hand, Nairobi Senator Johnson Sakaja is in hot soup as his core support base in  the city has risen up against him over the perception he has betrayed them by not supporting the proposed third generation formula. That formula seeks to increase revenue allocation to among others, counties from Mt Kenya region, including Nairobi where nearly half of the population is from Central.

So Sakaja, a perceived Luhya politician who has been nurtured in the confines of  a largely Gema party, is expected to toe the Jubilee line.

This reminds me of my journey as an ODM nominated MP, when Sakaja was nominated by TNA. When I moved to Jubilee due to the reality of local politics, Raila called a meeting at Orange House and demanded I return the seat  to ODM.

I must confess with all sincerity that while joining the Orange party, I genuinely believed in one indivisible Kenya. Sakaja is exactly in that position today, with the owners of the seat asking him to own up to their expectation that he should vote on their behalf.

These scenarios bespeak the tensions that exist within the emergent political ideology in Kenya. We have adapted the ideology from the West to suit our local realities, thus acquiring a tribal orientation since it is the basis for our political mobilisation.

It’s interesting to note that our body politic has largely ended up with two main choices. In the last elections, it was Uhuru versus Raila. Uhuru, with the backing from Mt Kenya region, embodied the status quo Centre-right, pro-business conservatism, while Raila embodied the Centre-left socialist distributionist ideology, with his core support base being his Luo community.

This trend is historically traced to the contestations between the fathers of the two, Jomo Kenyatta and Jaramogi Oginga, as the founding President and Vice President. When the two differed and Jaramogi invoked socialism/communism as his rallying political ideology, he was mainly followed by his community. It is instructive to note that the Luos didn’t own land as private property, while the Kikuyu had it for private use, thus the basis for capital ownership.

Sessional Paper No 10 of 1965 on African socialism and its application in the planning of Kenya emphasised political democracy in  an African socialist setting. But it banked on inter-tribal collaboration for the attainment of independence, without focusing on the reality of tribal fragmentation and geographical orientation as the antithesis of nation-building and competition for resources.

The fact that it emphasised investing in high-potential areas, coupled with the failure of majimboism due to inadequate funds, has meant the debate persisted for the past 60 years.

Oginga, in assessing this ideology, observed, “In the mouths of the government and Kanu leaders, African Socialism has become a meaningless phrase. What they call African Socialism is neither African nor socialism. It is a cloak for the practice of total capitalism. To describe the policies of the present government as 'African Socialism' is an insult to the intelligence of the people.

"The deception is obvious, but the leaders of the government and of Kanu do not have the courage to admit that they are fully committed to the western ideology of capitalism”.

This statement unravels the fusion of tribal orientation vis-a-vis a borrowed western political ideology, hence, the contradiction in the nurturing of nationalism within the context of Kenya as a developmental African state.

The re-introduction of devolution is meant to ensure all parts of Kenya benefit from monies drawn from the centre. The debate has since zeroed in on a contestation between populous and less populous counties, such as between Central and North Eastern.

The contradiction between nation building and evolving county centrism, which is defining our political orientation, is further entrenched by MCAs who are insistent on sharing county funds to the wards to make sense of bringing government closer to the people.

This means that going forward, there is the potential to witness a shift from a nationalist to a tribal and more so a county based orientation, as a basis for political contestation.

Devolutionism versus nationalism are thus emerging as the new localised political ideologies, thereby providing new ingredients and impetus to political contests, within the context of our democracy, as encapsulated by the slogan of ‘one-man, one-vote, one-shilling'.

Moreover, the allure of the presidency and a (re)emergence of regional economic blocs whose political rhetoric is undefined, shall continue to shape our thinking of who we are as Kenyans, as we compete with others in attaining the status of a  first world African state .