Why Kenya needs a referendum to introduce federalism to deal with entrenched autocracy and kleptocracy

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Ronald Ngala together with retired President Daniel arap Moi agitated for a federal system of government commonly known as Majimbo under the Kenya African Democratic Union (KADU) to resist the dominance of independence party Kanu that was led by Jaramogi Oginga Odinga and founding President Jomo Kenyatta.  Ngala later died under mysterious circumstances. PHOTO/JAMHURI MAGAZINE

By KINGSLEY NDIEWO

newsdesk@reporter.co.ke

Kenya has been through a lot of eras in politics, right from the pre-colonial era to the post-devolution era we are currently in. In each, there is an issue or a group of issues that unite Kenyans and their leaders in a struggle that once won, a watershed moment arrives and ushers in the next era. Our democracy and our politics are far from perfect, but we keep growing.

The struggles of note bring out a selflessness that should make us proud as a nation. On the eve of independence, Jaramogi Oginga Odinga insisted that Jomo Kenyatta must be released before independence was granted. The struggle had been for political independence, and it brought Kenyans of all tribes together in an amazing way.

The watershed moment was the achievement of political independence under Jomo Kenyatta. The next era of note was the single-party era, where Kenyans struggled for political pluralism. It took decades but eventually in 1991 the watershed came when KANU repealed section 2A of the constitution.

The soldiers in this struggle were James Orengo, Raila Odinga, Kiraitu Murungi, Koigi wa Wamwere among many others, some of who lost their lives. Again, Kenyans of all stripes came together to fight for multipartyism, with the opposition Forum for the Restoration of Democracy (FORD) being formed for the 1992 general election.

While FORD unfortunately splintered and lost an election they could have won, the precedent was set for political coalitions cutting across tribe that today are a permanent feature of Kenyan politics.

One overarching struggle was the need for a new constitution. This struggle again brought Kenyans together and many Kenyan politicians cut their teeth in the agitation for a new constitution.

The moment of glory was in 2010,when a new constitution was promulgated. It brought about devolution, perhaps the greatest single gain in Kenyan politics.

Devolution has transformed resource distribution and the access to government services of the citizenry in a way that is nothing short of revolutionary. And that has been our latest watershed moment as a country.

Raila Odinga he has been at the forefront of fighting for political reforms and democracy in Kenya for more than two decades now. PHOTO/COURTESY

The push from various groups for more money to go to counties, and for the faithful removal of the provincial administration which lives on in county commissioners and their hierarchy, is a new struggle. The devolution we have has changed lives, but falls far short of what we thought we were voting for in 2010.

Counties receive only about 13% of the budget, making them a mere government department than a separate and equal government as envisaged in the constitution. Pesa Mashinani and Okoa Kenya were the manifestations of this struggle, leading to a rebellion by governors of the ruling coalition Jubilee and occupying the opposition coalition for over a year.

The fact of the matter is that these initiatives did not go far enough. We are in a post-devolution era, and the benefits of devolution are indisputable.

The next struggle, anchored in moving more resources to the counties, must be outright federation. Most successful countries the world over are federations, from Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy to the United States – the world’s largest economy. Even China is a federation in spirit, with seven autonomous (or self-governing) regions, including the very successful Hong Kong and Macau regions. Our devolution can be turned into federation in a single well-planned and bipartisan referendum.

In a federal system, the 47 counties can be organized into 10 or 11 states, each with their own legislature, police service and judiciary. Rather than 47 bulky county assemblies, we’d have 11 state assemblies. Not only will the cost of devolution reduce, the effectiveness will increase.

Jaramogi Oginga Odinga, he was Kenya’s first Vice-President and a doyen opposition politics in Kenya. PHOTO/FILE

And when each state is responsible fully for its own development, and a strong equalization fund, then the national politics will finally be issue-based. We will finally surmount the very Kenyan mentality that development only happens when you support the ruling party. In the United States the Republicans hold both houses of Congress and the executive, yet Carlifornia – a reliably Democratic state – thrives unhindered.

Our politics is not perfect, but as the timeless poem Desiderata says – whether or not it is clear to you, no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

By KINGSLEY NDIEWO is an electronics engineer and federation evangelist at Kenyans for a Federation

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