Many in East Africa have been listening in on the secession talk in Kenya with more than passing interest. It affects them as it affects the Kenyans in our socioeconomic and cultural interconnectedness should there be any fallout.
The thrust of the conversation has mainly been about political inclusivity and equity, especially deriving from the fact that only two communities (i.e., Kikuyu and Kalenjin) have produced a president since independence.
Depending on who you ask, pundits’ views have been ranging from bemusement to scepticism, as well as concern that such talk could lead to violence.
The bemusement is hinted in opinions such as of a prominent legal scholar that Kenyans should go gaga over a tease of secession when it is neither radical nor new; and scepticism by a commentator suggesting it is a ruse that “the whole talk of ethnic domination is a device to hide this domination by the elite of all tribes, which has led to a situation where 8,000 individuals own 62 per cent of everything.”
All agree, however, that the debate is healthy and necessary, especially in questioning whether the country’s democracy should be so lopsided as to make it, through “tyranny of numbers”, a preserve of certain communities or political dynasties to lead in perpetuity.
Reading from the dismal history of secessions in Africa and elsewhere, however, there are those who urge caution as to the threat of chaos such talk poses. Examples such as Eritrea’s secession war from Ethiopia or South Sudan’s from the Sudan have been extensively mentioned. Nigeria’s three-year Biafran war in which over one million needlessly perished has served as a poster child of the effects of secession, no matter how justified the call to separate.
Nonetheless, not many pundits seriously envision Kenya easily breaking up. This suggests that the separatist discussion is something of a red herring, with its shock value fuelling the debate and serving to focus on the issues that must be addressed for the country to find an even keel and cure the threat of violence every five-year election cycle.
If it is about self-determination as suggested by those frustrated by their perceived inability to effect political change through the ballot, secession need not be the only option.
The 2010 Constitution was an attempt at addressing some of the issues, with one of its key planks being devolution. It creates a decentralized system of government wherein two of the three arms of government, namely the Legislature and the Executive are devolved to the 47 Political and Administrative Counties. The primary objective of decentralization is to devolve power, resources and representation down to the local level.
While there are indications it has gained a certain measure of popularity and that it is delivering among some of the previously most marginalised regions and communities, there remain those dissatisfied with its adequacy amid charges of persistent political inequities.
It is such doubts that have precipitated the clamour, morphing it into the political struggle at reins of power both at the county and national levels.
And yet, if it is not adequate as an equaliser, might it not just need a little tweaking? At only 7 years-old since inauguration, has the Constitution been adequately tested and found to have completely failed?
Devolution has just completed its first stint of implementation. Why then should we be so quick to contemplate secession particularly, as some critics speculate, at the altar of craved ambition of some individuals hunger for power?
The queries aside, I will, as usual speaking for myself, err on the side of optimism as a bona fide East African that a politically amicable solution will be found.
Other than that, the raucous debate in Kenya is akin to a domestic squabble that has sometimes turned violent in a quiet neighbourhood. A lasting solution can only be found within the household as understanding neighbours check things don’t get out of hand as they watch on the sidelines ready to offer any assistance.
It is all in our being intricately entwined. As African traditional healing held, when one member is unwell, the entire village is unwell. Restoring an individual to wellness sometimes had to take the village. I suppose that is what the EAC is all about.