Ideas & Debate

How Kenya can stay unified under devolved system

President Mwai Kibaki signs the new constitution into law. Photo/FILE
President Mwai Kibaki signs the new constitution into law. Photo/FILE 

At a recent function, I heard a young Kenyan say: “I am soon completing my Masters studies and will be ready for a big position in my home county once devolution becomes real.”

The words made me recall the National Cohesion and Integration Commission’s (NCIC) recent audit of ethnic representation in our public universities and the interesting findings the study revealed.

Whereas the expectation of the audit was that the lower cadre of employees would largely comprise residents of the locality within which the universities were located, the reality was different.

It was expected that salary scales at the lower level would attract residents and repel those from far off. But to our surprise, the result was different both at the lower and top cadres. Resident lost out to visitors

Some explanations offered for this scenario included the fact that when new universities were established, a large number of senior cadre employees who were working in, say, Nairobi or Kenyatta universities, chose to apply for positions in the institutions located ‘‘closer home’’.

Now that county governments are almost here with us and the first General Election under the new Constitution is drawing closer, Kenyans are already expressing the ‘‘home coming’’ tendencies. This is not by itself a bad thing, but it poses danger if not carefully managed.

We need to bear in mind that the intention of the current Constitution is to foster unity, which is captured in the Preamble which states that; “PROUD of our ethnic, cultural and religious diversity and determined to live in peace and unity as one indivisible sovereign nation’’ we are ‘‘COMMITTED to nurturing and protecting the well-being of the individual, the family, communities and the nation.”

But the sentiments expressed by the youngster, which I mentioned earlier in this article, clearly indicate that Kenyans may not be ready to adapt these national principles at the county level.

The often-used phrase, ‘‘ours’’, threatens to rear its ugly head when the devolved structure comes of age.

The interpretation of Article of the Constitution (Art 260) provides that “public office” means an office in the national government, a county government, or the public service. “Public service” is defined as collectivity of all individuals, other than State officers, performing a function within a State organ. A Constitutional principle of public service (Art 232 (h)) requires that it reflects Kenya’s diverse communities.

Many people have often stated that NCIC should ideally have been established in 1963, as soon as we attained independence.

Kenya has now adopted a new governance structure that presents a rebirth of the nation, and as the county structure is being established, it is paramount that all feel a part of the system right from the start.

This is why we must guard against the exclusion of ‘‘smaller’’ ethnic communities resident in the counties.

The National Cohesion and Integration Act, 2008, was passed at a time when Kenyans had realised the threat that ethnic ‘‘exclusion’’ poses to national unity as well as peaceful and harmonious co-existence.

Section 7 of the Act states that 1, all public establishments shall seek to represent the diversity of the peoples of Kenya in the employment of staff, and 2; No public establishment shall have more than one third of its staff from the same ethnic community.

Inclusivity is a key concern if we are to build one unified nation. In fact, it is for this reason that specific legal provisions have been put in place to ensure participation of women, youths, and persons with disabilities, among others.

We have a long history of exclusion of various groups hence the establishment of the Gender and Equality Commission which will oversee full inclusion of such groups.

Guard against exclusion
However, in recognition of the threat of disintegration of national unity posed by ethnic exclusion, the National Cohesion and Integration Commission was put in place.

The eagerly anticipated county governments must guard against exclusion of smaller communities resident in the counties.

The need to specifically offer oversight over ethnic inclusion is in line with principles such as presented by Stuart Schleien.

The concept of inclusion is a continuum of different levels of acceptance.

First is physical integration. This is when a “person’s right to participation is recognised and actively assured”.

This is followed by functional inclusion, which refers ‘’to one’s ability to participate meaningfully.’’

This assumes that inclusivity is addressed at different levels of social life. It is only after these two levels of inclusion have been met that the final and highest level known as social inclusion can be achieved. Unlike the other two levels, social inclusion cannot be mandated.

Social inclusion must be internally motivated.

Emphasis must be laid on the fact that diversity is embraced and not lost in inclusion.

Inclusion also allows for the facilitation of meaningful interactions between persons of different sociocultural backgrounds.

It is only through the development of these meaningful relationships that stereotypes and stigma can be eliminated and Kenyans can begin to see each other outside ethnic cocoons.

It will be important that county governments fully adopt these provisions so that the national rebirth promised by the Constitution is achieved and sustained.

Ms Lwanga is a commissioner, National Cohesion and Integration Commission.