The Place of Devolution in Rediscovering and Rebuilding the Kenyan Project

 Many have criticized Dr Ndii’s article in the Saturday Nation of 26th March 2016, titled: “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talk divorce” ( However, the article was spot on because it provided a thorough analysis of how and why the Kenyan nation project failed. The sentiments shared by Dr. Ndii have been captured by many other politico-economists. Kenya is not a nation because our people are not one. Kenya is merely a state with various nations.
The founding fathers did not do well in terms of subsuming the different nations into one nation. They did not create one big Kenyan vision and dream that all individuals in the different nations would buy into towards creating one Kenyan nation.

Before colonialism, we were separate chiefdoms and fiefdoms that only interacted through war or trade. During colonialism, the colonialists used divide and rule. They pampered and empowered collaborators against those that resisted. Through ethnic profiling, they began to cultivate the ethnic prejudices that permeate the Kenyan pyche to date.

During the clamor for independence, the interests of the separate nations informed dynamics in Kanu and Kadu. While KANU was nationalist, it was seen as a vehicle for Kikuyu and Luos that would be used to dominate minorities. Consequently, Kadu had great following among perceived minority nations and advocated for Majimbo.

It is instructive to note that Dr. Ndii’s article takes us back to a conversation that informed Kanu and Kadu politics. Definitely, there were merits to having a unitary state and merits to Majimboism or Federalism in Kenya. While the Kenyan Nation project lingers on collapse, many will appreciate the pro-unitary state that our founding fathers made upon Kanu winning the first elections in independent Kenya.

President Jomo Kenyatta should have done better in terms of healing the divide. His harambee rallying call was apt in uniting the country. He stood tall as a uniting figure but his politics of patronage while using the provincial administration structures to advance a state that was not friendly to the people killed the Kenyan nation dream. The unbridled capital greed perpetuated by Kenyatta cronies led to a state that Mwalimu Julius Nyerere aptly described as a man eat man society. Ethnic mobilization due to irrational privatization of land and appropriation of land held by colonialists compounded ethnic sentiment in Kenya.

President Moi with his Nyayo philosophy also nearly united the country. However, like Kenyatta, Moi also advanced patronage, clientilism, prebendalism leading to disenfranchising of many in the Kenyan Nation. When Moi’s hold to power was threatened, due to multi-party politics, the galvanizing of Kalenjins with the sentiments that they should protect their seat led to cracks, which found utmost expression in the 2007 post election violence. However, before then, it is instructive to note how politicians used communal land issues to create the notion of us against them thus distinguishing the separate nationhood in Kenya.

President Kibaki had a great opportunity to set Kenya on the right path through the Rainbow Dream. But when they came down to it, the leaders quickly dealt with issues wearing their tribal veils leading to none thinking in terms of what is good for Kenya. If only Kibaki, Wamalwa, Ngilu, Raila among others had stuck to the dream of a new Kenya; a Kenya with efficient and effective institutions that deliver to all who merit without favor, that would have been a turning point.

The coalition government between Kibaki and Raila had the onerous task of stitching the Kenyan nationhood together. The negotiations that led to sweeping changes and reforms in Kenya and the dawn of a new constitutional dispensation should have been the definitive cementing of Kenyan nationhood. The new constitution, in all its failings, provides a robust framework for cementing our unique Kenyan nationhood while respecting our diversity.

President Uhuru Kenyatta had the envious task of implementing the new constitution and championing institutional Integrity and capacity building so that Kenyans have faith in the Kenyan project. Unfortunately, what brought Uhuruto into power is ICC and their main agenda was the ICC. Consequently, Uhuruto compromised all standards and all institutions for the sake of winning against the ICC at the expense of a united Kenya. Rather than promote oneness, they created enmity by accusing Raila of having fixed them at the ICC. Their machinations led to many Kenyans losing faith in institutions like IEBC, The Supreme Court, The TJRC, the EACC, the National Assembly, The Director of criminal investigations etc. In search for popularity, president Uhuru made moves that rendered institutions like NACADA lame.

All is not lost. Dr. Ndii calls for succession just as the initial Majimbo proponents had agitated. Maybe that is a path worth considering. However, before we consider that, in a world characterized by globalization, where regional integration or creation of political and trading blocs is the strategy, succession is too simplistic a solution. In my opinion, making devolution work as captured in the constitution is an important step in healing the nation. We need devolve more resources and function and reduce national government to maintaining security and coordinating activities in the counties towards safeguarding national interests. The semi-autonomy of devolved units of government ought to be emphasized in discourse. Let locals find a greater role to play in management of devolved funds. If this happened, the sense of marginalization or victimization by national government might dissipate. If that sense of marginalization or being treated unfairly by national government were to end, our nation would heal.


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