Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Minister’s secession call is dangerous and irresponsible

Sunday Nation 17 May 2009, Page 10

Early last week an assistant minister in the grand coalition government was quoted as saying that Coast Province should secede from the rest of Kenya in order to manage its own resources.

He also made claims to the effect that the province contributes “over 60 per cent of national tax revenue”, yet it remains the least developed region in the country.

There are two problems with this minister’s assertion. One, the statement is factually incorrect for it is difficult to say with certainty that the province contributes that much to the national coffers without the involvement of the “up-country” folks.

The national economy is so intertwined that all regions contribute one way or another to the so-called national cake.

The more serious problem, in my opinion, is that this statement was made by a minister of government.

If he truly feels that his province should be self-governing and not part of Kenya, the first thing he should do it to resign his ministerial post and fight for secession from the back bench of Parliament. Even better, he should vacate his parliamentary seat and retreat to his province to lead the fight for secession from there.

Without taking these steps, his remarks can only be interpreted as attempts at seeking cheap publicity by making inciting statements that may only curry favour with certain segments of his constituents.

Such statements do very little to encourage national healing and cohesion, a key task this government set for itself at its formation early last year.

It is a pity, therefore, that the two principals – President Mwai Kibaki and Prime Minister Raila Odinga – would continue to entertain such an individual in government after he had made potentially treasonable comments in public.

THE MINISTER MADE THOSE REMARKS as Kenyans are preparing themselves for another round of constitutional review, and the issue of majimbo is making a stealthy comeback.

Both sides of the grand coalition government now seem to agree on a majimbo system of government, even though nobody has bothered to define what majimbo means in the first place.
The most vitriolic contentions arising out of the constitutional referendum debate of 2005 revolved around the issue of devolution, with one group rooting for majimbo (later renamed ugatuzi due to the emotional undertones of the former term) and the other vehemently opposed to it.

The Yes campaign seemed to favour a centralised system of government with limited devolution as espoused in the Wako draft, while the No campaign rejected this and favoured the Bomas draft option of significant autonomy for the regions.

As the majimbo debate is revived, remarks like the assistant minister’s only serve to obfuscate issues and bring to the fore the ignorance and confusion surrounding the majimbo issue.

The truth is that no matter what any well-meaning individual or group tries to do to inculcate a sense of nationhood among Kenyans, “leaders” such as this minister remain stumbling blocks in the path of progress.

A recent survey showed that most Kenyans opposed to majimbo view it as a means of evicting “foreigners” from certain areas and favouring “indigenous” people with jobs and other opportunities.

Whether this is the case or not is unclear, since no political party has come out openly and discussed the implications of whatever form of devolution they favour to the common mwananchi.

In the absence of such clarification, it behooves our political leaders to be more careful about what sort of verbiage they spew out in public forums. The use of terms like “outsiders” to refer to other Kenyans should be restricted to unschooled village louts with no vision of the world beyond the nearest shopping centre.

As long as other politicians remain mum on this issue, it can only be assumed from these utterances that their vision of majimbo is one of exclusionist politics with a significant dose of ethnic cleansing.

THE HYPOCRISY OF OUR POLITICIANS IS exposed every day in their lack of guile when faced with multiple microphones and a crowd of eager listeners.

Politicians of various shades in this country proclaim daily their commitment to East African integration in the interest of a larger market for Kenyan goods and greater say on the international stage.

Yet when they address their constituents, who are assumed to be clueless ignoramuses, they turn into railing demagogues with pretences to protecting “communal” interests.

In this era of a shrinking geopolitical space and global interconnectivity, our politicians should realise that their audience is far broader than the few village folks they deign to address.

Dr Lukoye Atwoli is a consultant psychiatrist and lecturer at Moi University’s School of Medicine

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