Secession: Coming storm or passing cloud?

Raila represents the aspirations of communities that feel excluded from government since independence so the underlying issues will not go away with Raila’s exit

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A section of Coast leaders want to secede
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By Kenyatta Otieno

When David Ndii put forward his treatise about Kenya being a cruel marriage, some thought he had landed from space with mad aliens’ disease. Less than two years later, Homa Bay Town MP Peter Kaluma has filed a draft Bill with the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission seeking the secession of 40 counties from Kenya into a new state. Then, Jubilee Party activist Washington Makodingo has also drafted a bill seeking the expulsion of four Luo Nyanza counties from Kenya.

First, I do not know another country that has made it easy for a section of its population to secede, like our constitution does. I wish experts from the NO side of the 2010 referendum had hired experts to comb through that draft. They could have given us such facts instead of the unconvincing reasons they put forth. The inclusion of Peoples Assemblies in the constitution also beats me; I am sure Jubilee Party did not know such clauses existed. When secession calls came up, people responded by saying Kenyan terrain cannot sustain a civil war. The then Committee of Experts owes us an explanation on the basis and spirit of these two clauses.

The secession talks came up immediately after the August 8 elections. It popped up from NASA supporters out of the disappointment that followed IEBC Chairman Wafula Chebukati announcing Uhuru Kenyatta as president elect on August 11, 2017. When Raila Odinga announced that he would make a major announcement on August 15, some of his supporters believed he was going to announce a push for secession. He announced that NASA was going to the Supreme Court to challenge Uhuru Kenyatta’s election. The secession talks hushed for some time, until mid-October when Raila withdrew from October 26 repeat presidential poll, when it picked again.

A section of Coast leaders want to secede

Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho and his Kilifi counterpart Amason Kingi announced that former Coast province would begin a push to secede from Kenya. The irony of this is that it is foreign diplomats who responded by holding am meeting with Coast leaders to try and curtail their push for secession in the bud. The two governors did not relent as several legislators came out to support that call. I believe the government still thinks secession is a rolling stone that will gather no moss.

The main misconception is that secession is about Raila Odinga and his Luo support base. Maybe this is why diplomats rushed to Mombasa to meet Coast leaders because their quest beats this misconception. The Luo, despite being vocal, only constitute about 30% of Raila Odinga’s support. Raila has always wanted to be the president of a united Kenya; I do not see him coming out to support secession. He has never pushed an agenda that appears or is sectarian, and I doubt if he will begin now. It is not a legacy he needs to take with him on his way out of the political scene.

Secession is about Raila but not in the way Jubilee Party hawks portray it. Raila’s experience in Kenya’s politics is part of the roots of secession calls. The people shouting about secession believe that Raila has done everything possible in terms of reforms but the government has never given in so there is nothing else to be done. Raila built his leadership story around democratic reforms and good governance; the next generation of leaders will build their story on secession. If Raila has not been able to break into the centre of power in Kenya, the question is, who will?

Past and future

Past experiences in terms of historical injustices viewed from the rear mirror form the background upon which secession calls are projected. Land injustices at the coast, where powerful people in government and their cronies grabbed large tracts of land at the expense of locals, is a good example. The piecemeal issuance of land title deeds in the region has not pacified the locals who feel cheated. The other areas of concern are police brutality for Luo Nyanza, as well as exclusion from the centre of power and the goodies that come with it.

Through the windscreen, the tyranny of numbers bubble that got burst in 2017 general elections forms the projection for secessionists. The Kikuyu and Kalenjin claim to have a large number of votes that the other tribes cannot beat even if they all come together. This lie is usually planted during national census where fake figures are announced; the next one is in 2019, three years before the next general elections. The Kikuyu have sworn that they will never again leave power in the hands of other communities. From the look of things, Deputy President William Ruto is going all out to clinch the presidency in 2022. This leaves 2032 as the year when other tribes have a chance on the presidency, but the Kikuyu will definitely want it back by then. This mathematics is what pushes the politics of exclusion narrative that amplifies calls for secession.

Luo, despite being vocal, only constitute about 30% of Raila Odinga’s support. Raila has always wanted to be the president of a united Kenya; I do not see him coming out to support secession. He has never pushed an agenda that appears or is sectarian, and I doubt if he will begin now. It is not a legacy he needs to take with him on his way out of the political scene.

Passing cloud or storm

According to Jubilee Party, this is a passing storm that will go away once Raila Odinga and his brigade come to terms with the fact that their leader will never be president. To them, it is all based on Raila’s failure to clinch the presidency, which is not a credible ground for secession. Raila represents the aspirations of communities that feel excluded from government since independence so the underlying issues will not go away with Raila’s exit.

On the flip side, I believe it is only a passing cloud if NASA leaders want to use it as a bargaining chip for some form of political settlement. In that sense, once they get the reforms they want and may be another election in three months then secession calls will subside. It will subside out of respect for Raila but let us remember that he is in the sunset end of his political career. The upcoming leaders might pick it up to galvanise support as soon as Raila bows out and his support base is up for grabs.

Secession calls all over the world are like a storm that builds up slowly over time until such a time when nothing can be done about it. All it takes is consistency and determination to achieve self-determination at all costs. This will happen when the underlying reasons for secession are ignored. A generation will come that will not want to make the mistakes of the past generation. I doubt if the next generation of leaders from NASA zones will have the patience and resilience of Raila. The build-up will take some time but if nothing is done about it, secession is inevitable.

History has shown that political ideologies that have succeeded have never rode on acceptance across a large group of people. All that is required is for the critical members of society to buy into it, and the masses will follow. Secession might appear like a Luo and Coast affair but if it is not checked, it will spread across the country like bush fire and build a major storm.

Reality check

Session the world over is long and drawn out. Catalonia, in Spain, declared independence but Madrid came with an iron fist to put it off and the leader fled to Belgium. It doesn’t mean that Catalonia will not secede but it will take time; so NASA, and now NRM, must first decide if this is a battle they are determined to see through to the end. Even if our constitution makes it look easy, the government is designed to protect territorial integrity. I foresee (il)legal roadblocks along the way.

Even if secession is a walk in the park, building a new nation is not. Putting up systems and a national identity is extremely challenging. In many cases, new states have degenerated into further anarchy under the weight of balancing interests and putting up structures.  Another challenge is international recognition. The European Union threw its weight behind a unified Spain. This is bound to give Catalonia challenges even if they secede, as the community of nations detests secession unless it is very necessary. The Puntland region of Somalia has declared independence but no country has recognised it.

I put the blame squarely on the people at the centre of power in Kenya. Secession is a virus that, once it infects a nation’s software, only a miracle will clear it. Clamour for secession is not going away anytime soon.   ^

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