After the grand coalition, letís
lay the foundation for a united nation
Story by DONALD B. KIPKORIR
01. March 2008
Kenya is 45 years old today, but it is yet to find peace with
itself. In this day and age, we still engage in tribal clashes and
cattle rustling as well as burn houses and chop off one anotherís
We are a country in which the President, Cabinet ministers as well
as the chief executives of public and private companies trust only
members of their tribes to serve as personal secretaries, drivers,
aides and cooks. Many parts of the country are yet to see tarmac
roads, piped water and sewage systems, hospitals or even basic
schools. And every five years, we hold elections.
The last elections marked the apogee of the countryís tragic
journey. The Electoral Commission under Mr Samuel Kivuitu
destroyed the little democracy we had started nurturing, and
former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan had to come from retirement
to help us to find sanity.
On Thursday, a political agreement was signed by President Kibaki
and ODM leader Raila Odinga under the watchful eyes of Mr Annan
and Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete as well as Big Brother
standing in the shadows.
The agreement is light at the end of a dark tunnel that Kenya has
been in for 45 years since independence. But we do not know if the
light is not of an oncoming train that has no driver and bears
ill-will. To make sure it is of good fortune, the remaining part
of the peace talks must be honest, candid and patriotic.
Cycle of violence
How can Kenya break from this cycle of violence? How can we make
sure the two or three remaining topics of negotiations give us
permanency in nationhood and peace? Maybe a trip back in history
will help us to find the root cause of our problems and possibly a
cure. We can ignore the lessons of history only at our peril.
Over 123 years ago, Otto von Bismarck, an ambitious and
charismatic German chancellor, convened a meeting of world powers
in Berlin. In the meeting of fun, wine and diplo-speak from
November 15, 1884, to February 26, 1885, the map of Africa was
laid on a table and divided among Great Britain, Germany, Belgium,
France and Portugal.
The cartographers must have been enjoying themselves slicing a
continent with no fear of injunctions or inhibitions. The over
1,000 African tribes knew neither what was happening in Berlin nor
that another continent existed. Bismarck and company were about to
disturb our innocence.
When these men met, Europe was undergoing a second industrial
revolution. Economic development meant demand for sources of raw
materials for the new and expanding factories and markets for the
processed goods. Africa, of course, was not being parcelled out to
be an export market, but a rich reservoir of raw materials.
The worst land-grabber was King Leopold II of Belgium who annexed
the entire Congo basin and made it personal territory. He
transferred it to his country only in 1908.
In 1914, the partitioning of Africa was completed and we were
bequeathed the current boundaries. When Kenya got independence
from Britain in 1963, it found itself with 42 African-Kenyan
tribes, European-Kenyans, Asian-Kenyans and Arab-Kenyans ó
altogether making 45 tribes sharing one country. Some tribes like
Maasais, Kurias, Somalis and Sabaots found themselves straddling
It is in these 45 tribes that lie our seeds of destruction ó and
As the second phase of the current talks begins, the mediators
must deal with the issue of tribe once and for all. We cannot
forever deceive ourselves that we are a nation when we are not. We
keep hearing our leaders preach against negative ethnicity yet
they employ only their kin. Legislating against negative ethnicity,
as has been done in the Public Officers Ethics Act, has been a
public relations exercise that no public officer cares about. Iím
yet to see a public officer being arraigned in court for employing
A nation-state is a geographical territory that shares identity in
language, culture, custom and history. Kenya is a state composed
of 45 nations.
We must navigate this political terrain to see how the nations can
start living in harmony and in creating a unified state. At the
moment, the only thing Kenyans share is a common boundary decided
in Berlin. Our 45 years have been spent in that tunnel.
We all think that European countries donít have tribes; the truth
is, however, the opposite. There is no single country in Europe
that is composed of a single tribe, except the new ones that have
come out of Yugoslavia.
Italy, Britain, Spain and Belgium are already divided into, or at
the moment engaged in political processes that is taking power, to
tribal regions. Kenya can learn from Germanyís management of
The Federal Republic of Germany is divided into 16 tribal regions
called Bundeslander. Each was so created based on shared
historical and cultural ties, coupled with the unique demands of
each locality for development, planning and efficiency. This
tribal division is embedded in the Preamble and Article 29 of the
Constitution, which is categorical that the tribal regions shall
not have its borders altered other than by a referendum.
From the ashes of World War II, victorious allies wanted to
humiliate Germany, but with its tribal constitution promulgated in
1949 and reaffirmed in the German Unification, the country has
maintained its national unity that has led to its unprecedented
economic growth. Germany is now the worldís biggest exporter, with
the exports being mainly hi-tech goods valued at over $1.47
trillion a year. China, that workshop of the world, follows
closely with shoes and plastic exports worth $1.2 trillion.
As we come out of this perilous moment, in resolving the negative
ethnicity, Kenya must embrace ethnicity. We have had stunted
development because the national leadership has always been locked
up in a powerful presidency that, in turn, is captive to the
presidentís tribe. For instance, employment in the top echelons of
the public service and parastatals as well as regional development
is based more on tribe than any other criterion.
In adopting the German model, we must give the 45 tribes autonomy.
The tribes must come together into a bigger group that shares
common heritage and affinities. Examples are that although there
are nine Miji Kenda tribes, they will be given one autonomous
region to be as near as possible to current Coast Province, while
Kambas will form their own province, Gikuyu-Embu-Meru another and
Kalenjin-Maasai-Turkana the other.
These tribal subdivisions will end up creating about 10 tribal
provinces, but Nairobi will remain a city-state and the federal
seat. Creating tribal regions does not mean balkanisation or the
exclusion of other tribes, but that each tribal community will
have a defined territory in which to grow and nurture its culture
As in Germany, the central government will cede to the tribal
regions powers relating to administration, finance, legislation,
transport and judicial services as long as they do not cause
conflict with other regions, and with residual federal powers that
will remain in Nairobi. The federal government in Nairobi will
retain powers to sign international treaties, protect the national
borders and be in charge of foreign trade and policy.
Kenya can only mature into a nation-state once we admit that we
are a hodge-podge of 45 nations. Once each tribe realises it has
to develop its region, but within shared national borders, we will
have a great future.
Broz Tito and Vladimir Lenin attempted to create nation states by
force in Yugoslavia and the Soviet Union out of multiple nations,
and both their dreams now lie in ruins.
In Africa, it is only South Africa and Ethiopia that have tried to
have tribal regions with autonomy and seeds of permanent statehood
are being laid, although the latter is delaying success by having
the Tigrinya lord over the other tribes.
And without devaluing the celebrations brought about by the
Kibaki-Raila deal, our feet must remain on the ground.
The permanent and comprehensive constitutional reforms we shall
enter into ought to and must embrace our tribal differences.
Our nation-state will rest on a firm foundation if we embrace our
diversity. Political developments the world over show that
devolved political, economic and administrative power is going
tribal; letís take a cue.
Historical happenstance has given us a chance to correct our
course once and for all. Let the light at the end of the tunnel
that Mr Annan saw be not of an oncoming train with no driver, but
of sunshine outside radiating beautiful gardens awaiting Kenya.