30 October 2007

Kenya: Majimbo Debate is Yet Another Red Herring


Nairobi — Listening to majimbo proponents, one gets a feeling that this is just a red herring being dragged around in a bid to get a sticking and emotive election issue. One gets a feeling that the proponents know that this election is likely to hinge on performance and not rhetoric. On this score the opposition scores poorly.. Consequently, it is desperately searching for an issue that would make it look electable.

This search has spawned a series of red herrings over the past five years which just fizzle out. Among these is what the media calls "Anglo-Leasing style scandals."

This is the most meaningless phrase ever coined in Kenya. It indicates that the scandals are on-going. But since scandals must be named, that the scandals are "Anglo-Leasing like" but cannot be named, suggests that they do not exist except in some scandal-mongers' fertile imagination.

Where documents are ever tabled, they insult our intelligence. The documents, purportedly exposing some scandals leave much to be desired. No wonder, they just fizzle out.

Take the recent document alleged to be the Kroll report. Anyone with a bit of intelligence felt insulted by what passed for the report. For one that was meant to be investigative, it failed miserably in answering the critical questions: Just how much has been stolen from Kenya? How long did the pilfering go on? Who were involved?

That it did not answer the question - how much was stolen, shot the report down because that answer determines the credibility of any investigative report.

Confusion called majimbo

Since this one also fizzled out, a new red herring had to be created. This time, it was the confusion called majimbo. I call it confusion because I do not really know what it is that Kenyans are debating. Even its proponents cannot agree on the issue.

Some say it is economic majimbo - whatever that is - while others hint at balkanisation of the country into semi-autonomous units going by whatever name. That the proponents cannot agree on their pet subject is a clear pointer to the fact that this is another red herring meant to whet the appetites of the characters that spend their entire day talking politics even while walking in tatters.

When challenged to explain their thoughts, the proponents pick on another emotive phrase - equitable distribution of national resources. Equity in distribution presupposes that all people contributed something into the pot. For instance, when we buy shares in some company, we qualify for dividends commensurate with our shareholding, so that if one owns 100 shares, one will receive lower dividends than one who owns 1000 shares.

So what does equitable distribution mean? Does it mean that we all contribute equally to the pot, but get short-changed when it comes to our share of the cake we helped bake? Or does it mean robbing some areas to develop others?

Your sister newspaper, the Sunday Nation, rightly pointed in an editorial that the balkanisation of the country into political units that cede some sovereignty to the central government is a difficult sell in Kenya.

Power to the grassroots

This is because such drastic change would require the amendment of the Constitution . Such an amendment would require a referendum and there is no guarantee that Kenyans would approve such a shift.

So are we talking about something better than CDF? Here, the proponents of majimbo, either by choice or out of lack of knowledge, are loudly silent. They are loud on equitable distribution of national largesse and silent on equitable contribution to the accumulation of the largesse.

We therefore assume that they are talking about devolution of power to the grassroots, whatever that is. If devolution means empowering the grassroots to determine how to use state largesse at that level, then the Kibaki regime has already beaten them to it with CDF.

But they could also be talking about Tanzania's Ujamaa style which created quite a huge bureaucracy of cadres in rural areas. The bloated bureaucracy became a burden to the ordinary folk who were forced to pay all manner of taxes. For instance, fishermen paid 14 different taxes before the fish landed in the market. There were taxes for owning chicken, goats, cows... all levied on the rural folk.

In Kenya, we do not know of such things as chicken, cow and goat taxes, but if we adopt a system of governance that creates a huge bureaucracy, the tax burden will surely rise.

In other words, the federal state of government for a country the size of Kenya is a disincentive to economic activity because of the tax burden.

Dr Ojiambo is a PNU-Kanu official.

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