Fragmenting counties will bolster ethnic nationalism

Council of Governors (CoG) Chair Anne Waiguru. [Denish Ochieng, Standard]

The unity, peace and liberty that we invoke in our national anthem will always remain delusions if we do not seek to heal the broken parts of our society into one indivisible whole.

Ethnic jingoism, like ultra-nationalism, has always proved in the final analysis, to undermine man’s greatest blessing; brotherhood, the spirit of Ubuntu.

It's against this backdrop that I reject from the outset calls to increase the number of counties. I might have jumped the gun. So let me start from the beginning.

Decentralisation as a political tool was devised to cure the problems that were all too common with a centralised system of governance. Lack of trust, diminished accountability, political patronage, disregard for human rights, among others. This certainly buttresses the old American adage that has found expression in many democracies all over the world that a government is instituted amongst men to enhance enjoyment of right to life, liberty and pursuit of happiness.

It is precisely why we must ingeniously take care of devolution. We must make it work. We must strengthen, not weaken it. We must resist any attempts that would make devolved units subservient to the centre.

Between the choice of fragmenting the devolved units further and consolidating them, I will always cast my lot with consolidation. As presently delineated, the devolved units are entirely unable to capitalise on economies of scale. County governments are unable to make a solid economic sense beyond paying salaries while paying lip service to development. Small ethnic groups have decried dominance by larger communities, sometimes with tacit approval and/or the connivance of the elected political leadership and their godfathers at the top.

As we take stock of devolution, we must also appreciate that we cannot run away from one another as the ultimate solution to our differences, be they political or tribal.

Calls to fragment certain devolved units are nothing but sanctioning the ethnic nationalism that has always made it difficult to engender national unity. Anyone who encourages separation of people on the basis of ethnic differences will ultimately separate the people on other grounds such as religion and clan and other nefarious considerations.

To build a better country, we must make honesty and candour our friend. Not enough resources have followed functions. Still a disproportionate chunk of revenue remains at the centre. Devolving resources and power must never be misconstrued as a tool to heighten ethnic and tribal differences. If anything, we should learn from the ingenuity of the counties to forge together to grow their economies through policy harmonisation.

Let me ask here, the very same question I put before the BBI task force when I appeared before them in 2019. Why does a region like the Coast, with cross-cutting issues, have fragmented assemblies, thus fragmenting both the intellectual manpower and the material resources available to them to combat and alleviate human suffering? When you have small, fragmented units, how do they maximise use of existing opportunities and advantages for development?

We may want to revisit the question of representation and properly define units of representation. We must then carefully define the most basic unit of development. With that done we would then provide a legal framework that then compels the heads of devolved units to ensure that development and appointments accord and respect the diversity of the devolved units.

By consolidating counties, manufacturing would get a big boost if the devolved units had capacity to invest in the regional economies. If we have Nyanza County, for instance, it would be easier for the region to set aside money and resources to revamp the sugar sector since this would be a political priority.

-Mr Kidi is the convenor of Inter-parties Youth Forum. [email protected]