It is quite intriguing that David Ndii should be the point-man to advise on ethno-federalism in Kenya. Even more intriguing is that Dr Ndii, a key strategist of the NASA presidential candidate Raila Odinga, has chosen to talk secession when the former Prime Minister's petition challenging President Uhuru Kenyatta's re-election has been filed at the Supreme Court. Ndii is an Oxford University trained economist and arguably one of Kenya's foremost public intellectuals. He is credited for being the brainchild of Kenya's public finance ideology in the much-acclaimed 2010 Constitution. That adds curiosity to Ndii's secessionist talk.
But how does the question of ethno-federalism fit in with Kenya's socio-political challenges, whatever we may be going thorough as a country notwithstanding? Two significant societies – the United States and Nigeria – were formed through secessionist struggles staged 100 years apart. In both cases the secessionists triggered off a civil war that took a deep toll on their contemporary societies. Soon after Abraham Lincoln was elected president in November 1860, seven southern states seceded from the Union. In March 1861, after he was inaugurated as the 16th President of the United States, four more followed.
The Union states wanted a country where slavery would be confined to the numbers that were in existence at President Lincoln's swearing-in. What then followed was the American civil war of April 1, 1861 to May 6, 1865 from which military casualties were 620,000 from both the union and confederate. One hundred and two years later in Nigeria, the Biafran civil war broke out. Then as now, Nigeria is Africa's biggest country and economy. The Biafra war lasted between June 1967 and July 6, 1970. One of the main causes of the war was that the Igbo people felt they could no longer co-exist with the Northern-dominated federal government. The war was preceded by a military coup. What followed was the persecution of Igbos living in Northern Nigeria. Control of oil production in the Niger Delta played a key strategic role. By the time sense returned to the warring parties, casualties stood at 100,000 military personnel and between 500,000 and two million civilian deaths, the latter mainly from starvation.
While Britain and the Soviet Union mainly supported the Nigerian government in Lagos, France, Israel and a couple of other countries were for Biafra. Ensuring arms were never in short supply, was France and Israel whose arms offer bestrode the sinister divide. It is often forgotten that Kenya's first post-Independence crisis was the Shifta secession. Its perpetrators were seeking to join Northeastern to neighbouring Somalia for the creation of a Greater Somalia. This happened in the interval between Independence and Christmas Day 1963.
To this day, a serious legacy has been the marginalisation of North Eastern that took the unveiling of devolution to bring to an end. When Ndii recently howled secessionist prattle on live national TV, he was only intellectualising and deodorising a sinister debate long owned by predictable political scavengers. It is a path Kenya should never take.
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