Secession debate is about interests of the political elites, not us

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This secession talk is nothing but a smokescreen. It is not a main objective—but a means to an end. I say this for many reasons, but I will only give three.

Reason number one; the timing. The trigger for this secession conversation is the loss of a presidential election. Pure and simple. It is not about historical injustices or oppression. When Raila was in government, these injustices did not exist. But now that he is seemingly out in the cold, there is an urgent need to break the country up into ‘two Kenyas’.

This narrative has therefore been summoned to serve a particular purpose. And it is evidenced by the maps drawn as illustrations of the ‘new republics’; NASA is carving out a geographical realm based on the electoral results they had hoped to attain.

Reason number two, secession is an uphill climb. A steep and treacherous one. World history is a clear indicator of how bloody and protracted secession causes can be. More often than not, new nations are only formed after a protracted process, usually with heavy bloodshed. One would be hard pressed to find a case of successful secession that took less than two decades to attain. Ask our neighbours South Sudan and Eritrea, or Bangladesh and the former Yugoslavian state. These are 25 years that Raila does not have. He needs, and wants to get into government now. Today. Not after a long winded guerrilla struggle for a creation of his own brand new country. He does not intend to take up leadership after surpassing Mugabe’s 95 years.


Number three is the source of the narrative—the call for secession emanates from the ‘intellectual arm’ of the opposition. History shows us that a demand for self-determination emanates from the people; from the bottom-up. Instead, in our case, it is being suggested to them.

And the goal is simple. Calls for secession will form the justification for mass action. Mass action culminates in negotiation at the elite level. Negotiation at the elite level results in ‘Nusu Mkate’; a piece of the governmental cake.

Sure enough, there is a large section of Kenyans that feel excluded from representation- particularly at the executive level. It does not matter that having one’s tribesman at the helm does not translate to a citizen’s personal gain. It does not matter because politics, after all, is about perception. So yes, it is within their right to lament that the presidency has oscillated between two ethnic groups for half a century. It is within their right to demand inclusion. But how is secession the first recourse? The ballot and the bullet are not sitting adjacently on the shelf of options. In between them, there are several options to be interrogated and explored.

Splitting Kenya is an irrational over-reaction to a constitutionally solvable problem. NASA is gunning for the last resort without considering the first, second or even third recourse. It is like asking to have open heart surgery because we are suffering from a broken heart. Not only will the operation not cure the country’s broken hearted condition, it will cause physical trauma and open it up to risks of multiple infections. The same dissatisfied and competing leadership will still want to further split the ‘half country’ into a ‘quarter country’, an eighth of a country, even down to a village just so that someone can have a ‘kingdom’ to lord over. It will be a case of ‘same monkeys, different forest’.

Discarding a shared history

Furthermore, the ‘New Kenyas’ will not be homogenous—there will be multiple tribes within them. So how will inclusion be guaranteed? Why can’t those solutions be applied now—to a wholesome Kenya instead of a torn up remnant of a republic? Why are we being invited to consider the bullet instead of the ballot, via a constitutional referendum for instance?

In normal day-to-day life, separation is difficult; it is about severing relationships and discarding a shared history. This is true from business partnerships, to marriages and death. Even a court of law requires married couples to actively seek other remedies before the court initiates the divorce process. If separation between two people is not easy, how much harder for 45 million people?

We do not hate each other— in fact, our inter-ethnic symbiosis is palpable. Only in democratic competitions are our heads knocked together to attain political ends. We must open our eyes and realise that this talk of secession is about elite interest. An antagonised and frustrated political elite.

 —The writer is a PhD candidate in Political Economy at SMC University and a Research Fellow at Fort Hall School of Government.

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