This is hardly spoken about but the 2010 constitution envisages secession
Kenya’s August 8 elections took place against the backdrop of proliferation and weaponisation of fake news. This rightly animated all those interested in truth and Kenya’s burgeoning democracy.
The immediate post-election atmosphere before the Supreme Court ruling on September 1 nullifying the presidential vote was dominated by sharp discussions on secession, a subject whose support mirrors political inclinations: The National Super Alliance (Nasa) supporters predominantly backed secession while Jubilee Party supporters were against it.
In Kenya, elections distil the dreams, fears and hopes of citizens. Increasingly, the fear of post-election violence casts a dark cloud over the polls, especially after 2007/ 2008. This has made election an existential endeavour where the winner takes all.
The heat of the elections also reveals that Kenya is but a petri dish of nations and sub-nations, with bare minimum efforts to forge a united nation. Besides, compromised election outcomes have made the secession a tempting option to right electoral and other wrongs.
The secession debate is not new. North Eastern Kenya, during what was characterised as the Shifta War (1963–1967), attempted to secede. Their secession was anchored on the Pan-somalia dream, but was predominantly fuelled by the feeling of marginalisation and disenfranchisement.
The region’s status as an appendage to the Kenyan
State predates independence: To the British, the North’s only value was to act as a buffer against Italians, if not a wildlife-hunting playground.
As a colonial hangover, the post-independent government continued to treat the region the same way, if not worse.
Since then, the interaction between the State and North Eastern Kenya has been mediated through brute force and mutual suspicion.
The “War on Terror” in which ethnic Somalis were disproportionately targeted is an example. During Operation Usalama Watch, many Somalis, including women and children, were indiscriminately herded into Nairobi’s Kasarani Stadium.
Since the Shifta War, the inhabitants of the region, largely Somalis, have been treated with deep suspicion, and their fealty to Kenya is always questioned: They are Kenyans, but terms and conditions apply.
Along Kenya’s coast, a secessionist movement, Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), a self-declared social movement, also wanted the region to secede from Kenya. Their rallying call was Pwani Si Kenya (The Coast is not in Kenya). MRC was not a political party, a non-governmental organisation, an armed gang, or a terrorist organisation. It came to prominence in 2008, although it has existed in some form since early 1999.
While it was hard to ascertain the exact extent of their following and support, the historical and contemporary grievances the group raised resonate with the majority of the coastal people, even today. Those along the coast, who do not necessarily share their secessionist vision, agree with the grievances the group raised.
Land was the primary source of MRC’S discontent. While historical injustice around land is present in almost every part of Kenya, at the coast it is uniquely egregious. Closely linked to the land is economic marginalisation of the coastal region, despite the region being a lucrative tourist hub.
While, for most part, the residual Cold War paradigm has been the lens through which the two regions are viewed, a new model rooted in post-september 11 terrorism centred and discovery of natural resources and the large-scale infrastructure projects to access those natural resources – hydrocarbons and minerals – has emerged.
This has changed the State and multilateral institutions’ approach to the region. Most of the large-scale Vision 2030 flagship projects are located in the two regions.
Dr David Ndii, in a recent column in the Saturday Nation said: “Kenya is a cruel marriage, it’s time we talk divorce”, raising the secession issue. The economist and Nasa strategist returned to the topic post-election. He received a vigorous pushback from pro- unity Kenya.
What is hardly spoken about is that the 2010 Constitution envisages secession. However, the procedural threshold is high; the group wanting to secede should raise one million signatures and get the support of at least 24 county assemblies (Article 257).
Alternatively, the group can ask Parliament to initiate the move (Article 256). Secession must then be supported by a simple majority at a referendum by at least 20 per cent of registered voters in each of at least 24 counties (Article 255(2).
Fundamentally, secession is a symptom of a feeling of deep structural disenfranchisement. We cannot continue assuming that all is well as a united country.
Those proposing secession should exhibit redemptive anger — anger that moves one to transformation and human upbuilding, and those opposing it need radical empathy — actively striving to better understand and share the feelings of others.
In our deeply polarised setup, these may sound squishy, but we need it if we want a united Kenya.
ABDULLAHI BORU HALAKHE The procedural threshold is high; the group wanting to secede should raise one million signatures and get the support of at least 24 county assemblies.”