Why secession debate may be running deeper than we think

While our attention is fixed on demonstrations, a secession narrative that could potentially complicate national healing and reconciliation is back in the air. About two decades ago, the government and people in the Coast battled a secession narrative that was gaining ground under the rallying slogan of ‘Mombasa sio Kenya’.

This line of political agitation subsided until after the disputed presidential election outcome last year when Narok Senator Ledema ole Kina furiously asked Kenyans to consider secession if what he sees as a culture of election stealing cannot be stopped.

For a while, it appeared Ole Kina’s statement was uttered in the lasting heat of the drama that unfolded at Bomas during the 2022 presidential tallying whose outcome not even the Supreme Court of Kenya could definitively convince about half the country that “figures were not cooked.” For months, Azimio followers have been hurting in the absence of a voice that gives them a compelling justification to move on.

In his speech to welcome Baba from Dubai last week, Kalonzo Musyoka reminded the government that there is such a law as a right to self-determination in international law. He pronounced himself on the matter stating to the crowd that alienation is an option when a people do not find legitimacy in a government that rubs it in that only shareholders can actively participate in governance. That was a big one from a recharged hard hitting Kalonzo, he of the watermelon nickname back in 2008.

My interpretation of this narrative that pops up from time to time is that it might be running deeper than we think.

I doubt it will be thrown in the air just out of the blue. On the one hand, it could be preparing us for a long protracted conflict pitting the government against counties or regions that would have given up ever ascending to power through coalitions of their choice. On the other hand, the secession narrative could as well turn out to be some scarecrow conspiracy theory thrown at those in power.

The demonstrations we have witnessed could be neutered. Aware of this, the Azimio brigade might be having many options up in their sleeves.

One of them could be to move from the streets to agitate for secession. The prospects of this push are not clear but the political conflicts we have had in the country including deadly tribal fights have consolidated enough bottled up anger to make the narrative attractive.

It is not just the perceived or real electoral justice that is making secession an option.

The contentious revenue share formula between counties is not settled. Some politicians have repeatedly said that once the Kenya Kwanza government is settled they want to turn their attention to the revenue share criterion.

The Mountain MPs have not hidden their displeasure that they are not getting what they see as their rightful share of revenue from the national government. The counties that have been marginalised for years have stuck to their ground on equity and equality leading to the setting up of kits like the Equalisation Fund and a ministry that dedicates its focus on Northern Kenya counties.

Our political conflicts are first and foremost resource-based. Ascending to the presidency is seen as the way, in fact, the only way for a community to benefit from national resources. County CEOs have to loyally queue to the power that be at the national government to get any development fund.

Civil society activists have said in the past that Kenya is a forced marriage of tribes. We have a country to heal, build and pass on to future generations.

Denial and sweeping under the carpet political grievances founded on electoral injustice is blinding us from confronting the political tensions we are facing. Stopping the demonstrations is one step. Healing hurt citizens is more fundamental. Healing will only happen when the cause of the hurt is addressed. We have an obligation to listen to aggrieved parties.

Dr Mokua is executive director, Loyola Centre for Media and Communication