News 2008


After the grand coalition, letís lay the foundation for a united nation

Daily Nation


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 necks.

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 two countries.

It is in these 45 tribes that lie our seeds of destruction ó and indeed reawakening.

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 relative.

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 tribalism.

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.

Perilous moment

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 and history.

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.