26 November 2012

Kenya: How to Remain United in a Devolved System


Recently at a function, I heard a Kenyan saying; "I am soon completing my Masters studies and will be ready for 'big' positions in my 'home county' once devolution becomes 'real' ".

These words were like déjà vu! I recalled the exercise that the National Cohesion and Integration Commission undertook in 'auditing' the ethnic representation in public universities and the interesting findings it revealed!

Whereas the expectation while conducting the study, had been that the lower cadre employees would largely comprise members traditionally considered resident in the locality within which the universities were located as the salary scales at these levels were unlikely to attract people ordinarily resident far off, to our surprise, the result was the same for even the top-level cadre of employees.

The explanation offered for this was that when newer universities were established, a large number of senior cadre employees who had previously worked in Nairobi or Kenyatta University, chose to apply for positions in these institutions that were located 'closer to home'.

Now that the county governments are almost here and the first elections under the peoples Constitution draws closer and the legal framework to enable the realization of devolution are in place, Kenyans are already expressing these 'homing' tendencies. This is not by itself a bad thing but poses a danger if not carefully managed.

We need to bear in mind that the intention of the current Constitution is to foster But sentiments expressed by Kenyans mentioned earlier in this article clearly indicate that Kenyans may not be completely ready to adapt these national principles at county level. The often-used phrase that it is 'ours' threatens to rear its head when the devolved structures come into play.

The interpretation Article of the Constitution (Art. 260) provides that"public office" means an office in the national government, a county government or the public service. "Public service" is defined to mean the collectivity of all individuals, other than State Officers, performing a function within a State organ. A Constitutional principle of public service (Art. 232 (h)) requires that itreflect the presentation of Kenya's diverse communities.

Many people have often stated that NCIC should ideally have been established in 1963 as soon as we attained independence. Kenya has now adopted a new governance structure that presents a rebirth of the nation and as the county structures are being established it is paramount that all feel a part of the structures right from the start. This is why we must guard against exclusion of 'smaller' ethnic communities resident in the counties.

The National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008 was passed at a time when Kenyans had realized the threat that ethnic 'exclusion' posed to national unity, peaceful and harmonious co-existence.

Section 7 of the Act states that '(1) all public establishments shall seek to represent the diversity of the peoples of Kenya in the employment of staff. '(2) No public establishment shall have more than one third of its staff from the same ethnic community'

Inclusivity is a key concern if we are to build one unified nation. In fact it is for this reason that specific legal provisions have been put in place to ensure participation of women, youth persons with disabilities among others.

We have a long history of exclusion of various groups hence the establishment of a Gender and Equality Commission that will oversee full inclusion of such groups who although excluded find commonness in the nature of exclusion.

However in recognition of the very real threat to disintegration of national unity posed by ethnic exclusion the National Cohesion and Integration Commission is in place. The eagerly anticipated county governments MUST guard against exclusion of 'smaller' communities resident in the county.

The need to specifically offer oversight over ethnic inclusion is in line with renowned principles such as presented by Stuart Schleien. The concept of inclusion is a continuum of different levels of acceptance.

First is physical integration. Physical integration is when a "person's right to participation is recognized and actively assured" This is followed by functional inclusion which "refers to one's ability to participate meaningfully.

This assumes determination that inclusivity is addressed at different levels of social life. It is only once the first two levels of inclusion have been met, that the final and highest level known as social inclusion can be achieved. Unlike the other two levels, social inclusion cannot be mandated. Social inclusion must be internally motivated.

Emphasis must be laid on the fact that diversity is embraced and not lost in inclusion. Inclusion also allows for the facilitation of meaningful interactions between persons of different sociocultural backgrounds.

It is only through the development of these meaningful relationships that stereotypes and stigmas can be eliminated and Kenyans can begin to 'see' each other outside ethnic color.

It will be important that the county governments fully adopt these provisions so that the national rebirth promised by the Constitution is sustained.

Milly Lwanga is the vice chairperson of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission.

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