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‘Three tiers’ is poison for devolution

by kenya-tribune

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The Coast politicians’ proposal to split the region into Upper Coast and Lower Coast would cause disintegration rather than integration.

Then they call for a remapping of Kenya into federal states. If that is not met, wouldn’t it increase the popular historical sense of marginalisation of the region, even result in agitation?

There is no substantive economic or political justification to split Coast other than to gratify the greed to stay in power of retiring governors by assuming kingpinship of the new artificial creations.

And how does the split proposal sit with the contradicting demand for federation?

Federal states are semi-autonomous entities that are economically self-sustaining. And they must have a worthwhile population, economic mainstay and territorial social and political cohesion.

I doubt there is a region, under the old provinces or the Bomas 14 regions, with the ingredients. (The latter were rendered redundant by counties.)


Federalism has states vested with full branches of government — Legislature, Executive and Judiciary. What will be the structure of a federal Kenya or regional governments?

Imagine a devolved Judiciary under regional entities only paying homage to a Supreme Court!

One can argue that the United States has a working federal system with self-governing states, yet it is probably the most economically, racially, socially and culturally diverse and ‘ghettoised’ country. Yes. But what knits America together?

It’s recognition of diversity; the poor subsist with the rich and racism is intense but covert.

Extreme social stratification and differentiation combines both material worth of an individual, skin colour and levels of education.

The American state system is therefore tenuous. But it is knotted together by the promise of access to better life — the ‘American Dream’.

The states have strong stand-alone economies with a guaranteed large market for products and movement of goods, services and people.

The American federal system is fated and kept alive by the dollar. USA is a huge conglomerate and market of over 330 million — the most populous — consisting of 50 states, the Federal District of Columbia (Washington, DC) and five autonomous islands.

Its entrepreneuring people move from state to state and in the world, creating and searching for the dollar, thus keeping the federal system buoyant and resilient.

California is the largest state by population (40 million) and Wyoming, 10th largest in size, the least populous with hardly 578,000 people.

The free movement of people ensures that the populations of states do not fizzle out.

Contrast that with Kenya’s 50 million introverted population of mostly poor peasants and herders (17 per cent under the poverty line) passionately attached to their geographical area and unwelcoming to ‘foreigners’?

Its 42 diverse but discriminative linguistic and ethnic groups forever suspicious of one another. Some are still hunters and gatherers while a few live by Skype. Is this what we want to constitutionalise?

Our population is too minuscule for federalism. Our 10 most populous counties have 13,720,462 million people. Nairobi (4,394,073) is Kenya’s most populous county while Lamu (143,920) is the least populated.

A Coast federation, “Shrikisho la Pwani”, would have only 4,329,474 people — Mombasa 1,208,333, Kwale 866,820, Kilifi 1,453,787, Tana River 315,943, Lamu 143,920 and Taita-Taveta 340,671.

Upper Pwani (Kilifi, Tana River and Lamu) would have 1,913,650 people, and Lower Pwani, comprising Mombasa, Kwale and Taita-Taveta (Kajiado, Narok and Samburu counties want to regionalise with Taita-Taveta) 2,415,824.

Looking at the demographics, GDP prospects, economic activities and potential of the counties, how viable is the mirage of federalism?

The Pwani case applies to other regions being whipped into this disaster called regional governments.

Incidentally, the two contradictory demands have their root and are offshoots of a fad being sold through Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) rallies — the creation of regional governments and assembles as a third tier in an already crowded devolution field.

It’s criminal to snatch food from a child’s mouth. People have tasted self-government in counties; they like it and are unlikely to defer to another Leviathan bureaucracy after divorcing centralised government.

Regional governments are the surest way to kill devolution. Devolution is about decentralisation. Regional governments are recentralisation. This is how ridiculous the proposal is.

Mr Kabatesi is a political commentator and communication and governance consultant. [email protected]

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