Exceptions to regional balance

As important as regional balance is, it must be tempered with pragmatism; we must approach regional balance with pragmatism

William Ngene Njuguna in a Nairobi court on March 2, 2016 when he was charged with entering a protected area by sneaking into State House. He was found dead at Uhuru Park on April 7, 2016.

By Kenyatta Otieno

Over Christmas, I found myself watching a debut video of a musician from Bomet. Although I cannot remember her name, something in the video led me to this article. Like all debut videos this side of the equator, it lacked depth in creativity. What caught my eye was the presence of a police officer in full uniform in several songs in the album. It reminded me of Emmy Kosgey’s song Ategisin (I salute you).

The Kalenjin community has a high regard for the disciplined forces – so much so that they have a word for salute. I have also had the opportunity to visit the former Northern Frontier District where I have met many young men whose dream is to join our disciplined forces. Their exposure to firearms at an early age also makes the desire for a career in the police and the military to come naturally to them. To the rest of Kenyans, the disciplined forces are another job opportunity or an avenue to make money through corruption.

This thought immediately got superimposed on the process of picking the chair to IEBC and the principal of regional and ethnic balance. It then led me to an article on declassified British intelligence files in the Sunday Nation of December 11, 2016 on how the Reece Squad was formed to protect founding president Jomo Kenyatta. Then again, I recalled an altercation I had with someone on social media regarding a list that was going round purporting that most of the country’s county commissioners and police chiefs are Kikuyus. I put down my argument that culturally, Kalenjins – and pastoralists in general – make good policemen and administrators. I believe they should form the bulk of our security forces but the principal of regional balance does not think so.

The reason the drafters of the Constitution included regional balance in several sections of the law was to avoid the mistakes of past regimes, where the tribe of the president hogged major jobs in government which is a recipe for chaos. The spirit of this requirement is noble but, pragmatically, I believe there must be exceptions to it. The problem is you cannot include everything in a piece of law yet you must protect Kenyans from possibilities of someone abusing an ambiguous law. The implementers can go around the letter of the law without deviating far off from its spirit as long as it is in good faith.

The Constitution, in Article 241(4) states, “The composition of the command of the Defence Forces shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya”. The composition of the National Police Service, in Article 246(4), also states, “it shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya”. Lastly in regard to IEBC, Article 250(4) states, “Appointments to commissions and independent offices shall take into account the national values mentioned in Article 10, and the principle that the composition of the commissions and offices, taken as a whole, shall reflect the regional and ethnic diversity of the people of Kenya”.

The selection of Wafula Chebukati as IEBC Chair brought up the matter of regional balance enshrined in the 2010 Constitution. The current CEO Ezra Chiloba, who hails from Trans Nzoia County like Chebukati, must now pave way for someone else. That’s the effect of the words diversity, regional and ethnic balance in our Constitution. It does not matter how well Chiloba is performing or the potential of Chebukati; one of them must pave way for someone else. This is crucial for the election to be seen as free and fair. But should this apply to every sector of government?

In the Sunday Nation report, Independence cabinet minister Bruce McKenzie who was later revealed as a British Spy and died in plane crash believed to have been planned by agents of President Idi Amin of Uganda, was the brains behind Reece Squad. In early 1964, he arm-twisted the British government by claiming Jaramogi had sent a team to Eastern Europe for military training. There was also a far-fetched rumour of an impending coup, which led to the speedy formation of a commando unit comprising 60 loyal Kikuyus.

That is where our security forces began on a wrong tribal footing even after the inclusion of about 20 men from different tribes, two years later, into the unit. This mistrust planted by colonialists for “divide and rule” is what has led to strategic units in our disciplined forces and administrators to come from the president’s back yard. This is what the Constitution, 2010, tried to prevent; some matters, however, can never cured by legislation, however beautifully crafted.

In March last year, a handcart pusher, William Ngene Njuguna, jumped two fences and sneaked into State House. He was charged in court and released but died under mysterious circumstances at Uhuru Park the following month. Two months later, during Madaraka Day celebrations at Nakuru’s Afraha Stadium, 19-year-old Derrick Otieno breached President Uhuru Kenyatta security to seek audience with the President. He was held for questioning but released after five days.

Compare the above with Moi-era security, which, like the current Kikuyu-dominated presidential guards, was dominated by officers from the Kalenjin community. There have been reports of people who sneaked into State House in the past but it cannot be compared with the two cases mentioned above. The above cases are serious because they can give suspicious characters ideas. Then again, it lends credence to my argument that as important as regional balance is, it must be tempered with pragmatism.

Keeping pastoralist communities at the periphery of our security forces is like insisting on omitting Luos from our national football team, or Kalenjins from our athletics team. Nature and nurture has endowed every community with special traits that we can utilize in maximising the benefits of our diversity. It is good to insist on our security forces being representative of our social fabric, but it is also prudent to let those who excel in it to enjoy the fruits of their gifting.

Honour and livestock

Malcolm Gladwell, in his book Outliers, discusses the story of Scottish-Irish immigrants to America along the same lines taken by Democrat Jim Webb in his book Born Fighting. Gladwell considers these immigrants who lived in highlands and rocky lowland in the old world where they could only keep livestock. On their arrival in the new world, they settled in land that looked similar to their place of origin, in America’s backcountry states.

Webb talks about the Scottish and Irish cultural identity of acute individualism, dislike for aristocracy and military tradition. This is derived from their history of wars in the formation of Scottish State and continuous warfare along the border with England, and later in the bitter settlements of England’s Ulster Plantation in Northern Ireland. This is what makes pastoralists in Kenya to excel in the disciplined forces.

According to Gladwell, the survival of a farmer depends on societal cooperation but herdsmen are individualistic. Farmers, unlike herdsmen, don’t have to worry about someone stealing their livelihood in the night. This leads a pastoralist to be obliged to announce in actions and words that he is not weak, hence their aggressive culture. This tendency to pre-empt attacks and retaliate when attacked leads pastoralists to the culture of fighting for honour that, in today’s world, can be termed as patriotism.

It is no doubt that pastoralist communities, despite coming from marginalised areas, have flourished in the disciplined forces – and in the former provincial administration – more than in any other field. It is thus prudent to have an affirmative action to give them priority and more opportunities in areas that suit their culture. We must approach regional balance with pragmatism.

The ultimate cure is building a nation out of the small tribal nations that form the country Kenya. When every Kenyan can trust that his destiny and the destiny of the country is safe in the hands of any Kenyan, regardless of tribe, then competence will override ethnicity and the push for regional balance. We will then enjoy the fruits of our diversity that the Constitution is still struggling.



Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here