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Devolution hitch not new in Kenya as history shows

By By Frankline Sunday | June 13th 2013

By Frankline Sunday

Kenya: Kenya’s on-going devolution process has taken-off on a rocky start as many feared.

The central government and the Senate have been engaged in incessant wrangles with the later accusing the former of trying to scuttle the system.

But the teething problems being experienced by Governors and Senators have deep-rooted origins in Kenya’s political history, few officials in the current administration appreciate.

In the late 1950s, it became clear Kenya was on the path of breaking away from colonialism and attaining self-rule. Some African countries like Ghana had attained independence and a powerful domino effect was taking root in other countries.

 In addition to this, a new wave of political thought back in London brought about by the new administration questioned the role of Britain in the colonies and if it was still viable to have occupancy in these states.

Besides the clamour for independence by the Mau Mau freedom fighters the numerous African political parties and trade unions became louder. It then became more apparent to the British colonial administration that they will have to cede political governance to the African majority.

Independence was imminent and soon, Africans began to be accepted into the legislative assembly, allowed to form political parties and appointed to the Cabinet.

Lancaster Conference

In 1960, after the First Lancaster House Constitutional Conference, the ban on nationwide African political parties was lifted.  The first political party, the Kenya African National Union, (Kanu) was formed in March of that year and registered two months later.

Not everyone was happy with the Constitution of the new nationwide party. Some African leaders believed that Kanu was constituted by the big tribes in the country and that the exclusion of minority tribes meant it did not have a nationwide representation.

Hence the formation of the Kenya African Development Union, Kadu championed by Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala. Right from its onset, Kadu assumed an opposition role to the leading party Kanu due to ideological differences.

One of the biggest ideological difference was the understanding of the concept of Federalism also termed as majimboism, a debate that is at the root of the challenges besetting Kenya’s on-going devolution experiment.

Kadu argued that devolving resources from the central government to semi-autonomous regional administrative provinces would enhance  resource distribution, administration and reduce instances of unequal development.

However, Kanu on the other hand dismissed proponents of devolution as power-hungry tribalists who wanted to balkanise the country along tribal lines or majimbo.

On this day in 1963, Tom Mboya, Minister for Justice and Constitutional affairs warned regional administrators that they were not ‘presidents’ of their respective regions and that there was only one Government; the Government of Kenya.

Mboya stated that any assumption of executive powers by a regional administrator was illegal and would be dealt with ‘firmly and swiftly’.

Mr Mboya, however, stated that the government was ready to work with the regions in establishing a mutually beneficial political and economic relationship for the benefit of citizens.

The de facto single party regime that followed the immediate post-independent era saw Kadu slowly decimated by the ruling party Kanu.

As more Kadu members crossed over to Kanu, the notion of federalism/majimboism was defeated and replaced by the nationwide call of Harrambee or national unity.

Today, the debate continues although more subtly and veiled in battles over political administration, jurisdiction and financial autonomy.

Early this year, retired President Mwai Kibaki echoed the words of Tom Mboya fifty years ago.

At a Governors’ retreat early this year, former Kibaki told newly elected Governors that they should stop power wrangles with the Government and that Kenya was a unitary state.

These remarks from the then President caused a walk out protest later on in the delegates meeting as Governors stated they were still being treated as glorified mayors despite the Constitution stating otherwise.

On Tuesday, the President assented to the Division of Revenue 2013 Bill to the chagrin of Senators who claimed the Sh210 million allocated was too little.

The Senate had recommended that the central Government disburses Sh248 billion stating that most counties were almost starting from zero; with no administrative or financial infrastructure.

The concept of devolution as introduced in the country’s pre-independent political philosophy had a noble motive, for the most part.

The idea was to ensure marginalised or minority communities were not left behind in resource allocation and that devolution process encompassed the entire nation.   

The 1960s devolution experiment failed for lack of political goodwill, lack of adequate foresight in policy implementation or resource allocation.

The same problem has come to haunt the current political administration and with policy makers seemingly unable to learn from past mistakes, the devolution process could as well crumble as it did decades ago.

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