The Nation (Nairobi)

30 October 2007

Kenya: Majimboism Or Devolution - What is in a Name?

opinion

Nairobi — WITH THE PROPOSALS by ODM to introduce a majimbo system of government if elected, the quality of debate on the electoral platform has at least moved a notch higher.

We have moved from cheap propaganda and puerile insults to debate an issue of great importance from a policy standpoint.

In the thick of the debate, President Kibaki's Government has come out with full-page press adverts clarifying its position. Its position, simply put, is "majimbo bad, devolution good". The party is trying to make a distinction between majimboism and devolution.

Devolution is good and desirable says PNU. But the statement is notably silent on the devolution proposed in the "Wako Draft" constitution that this same Government unsuccessfully campaigned for at the 2005 referendum.

The rest of the advert is devoted to hitting out at majimboism, which is dismissed as retrogressive and designed to promote ethnic tension, secession, insecurity and what is delicately referred to as "major migration of the population" - meaning forcible eviction of some ethnic groups from certain regions.

The Kibaki campaign has already been accused, principally by his principal rival, Mr Raila Odinga, of sending out propaganda about majimboism.

Indeed, the Odinga campaign has been at pains to point out that devolution was catered for in both the Bomas and Wako draft constitutions.

But that is exactly the point the PNU is trying to make. Mr Odinga and others talk of majimboism, a form of government that has not featured in any proposed constitution. What was in all drafts of the proposed new constitution was devolution; not majimbo.

So what's the difference? Majimbo, for some, evokes memories of the threats of secession, violence and ethnic enclaves that Mr Ronald Ngala, Mr Daniel arap Moi and other Kadu leaders - directed by colonial settlers who might have wanted room to create their own white jimbo - approached the Lancaster House independence negotiations.

More recently, there was the spectre of ethnic cleansing in the Rift Valley prosecuted by the Moi regime as the antidote to the clamour for democracy.

When Kanu hawks like Nicholas Biwott, William ole Ntimama and Kipkalya Kones preached majimboism in the Rift Valley, it was not a policy proposal but a counter to the multiparty campaign.

It was not incidental that the majimbo rallies were followed by bouts of State-sponsored ethnic cleansing designed to keep the Rift Valley exclusively for "indigenous" communities.

THOSE WERE THE DAYS OF RIDDING Rift Valley of, in Mr Ntimama's words, those with "bowlegs and stained teeth" who ought to "lie low likes envelopes" (something might have been lost in translation here. Mr Ntimama can confirm that he actually said "antelopes").

Then there was also the majimbo-inspired Likoni clashes, sponsored by coastal politicians in 1997.

The kind of violence uncorked by the majimbo proponents still simmers, and to this day, can flare up at slightest provocation, as witnessed by the ongoing outbreak in Molo.

Therein lies the difference between majimboism, demonised by its own proponents, and devolution, a wholly acceptable concept.

The ODM Kenya team of Mr Kalonzo Musyoka foresaw what majimbo represented, and therefore preferred to talk about economic federalism, though the explanation was rather woolly.

One big question is whether Mr Odinga and company did not anticipate the kind of fears and reactions the call for majimboism would provoke.

They could not have been so naïve. Therefore, we must presume that the term was very carefully settled on because it would raise hackles.

It is likely the calculation was that one region most heatedly opposed to majimbo would be central Kenya, and therefore the debate would take on the elements of one province versus the rest. Smart.

Perhaps if we forever banished the term majimboism, we could debate proposals for federalism, devolution or what you will in a sober atmosphere.

But it also must not be a cover for ethnic warlords the proponents of tribal jimbos, balkanisation, and ethnic cleansing. When that is clear, I am all for devolved government. But only one that works. Anyone who is for devolution should read carefully the Bomas constitution and all other variants.

The biggest problem is that they all proposed multiple layers of government but were extremely sketchy on how such layers would relate to each other and to the centre.

Bomas, in my estimation, would have been a disaster; and the diluted version proposed by the Government was no improvement either.

The biggest problem was that the framers of our proposed new constitutions were not creating devolved government, but simply adding extra layers of bureaucracy, inefficiency and theft.

Odd, also is that all the proponents of devolution are talking about how national resources will be spread to the regions in a more equitable way.

That is arrant nonsense. We should be talking about how each regions will be self-sufficient, and also spare something to fund the central government.

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