Columnists

Honest discourse will deliver cohesion

Madaraka Day Kisumu

Members of the public attend Madaraka Day celebrations at Jomo Kenyatta International Stadium in Mamboleo, Kisumu County, on June 1, 2021. PHOTO | PSCU

This year’s Madaraka Day was celebrated in Kisumu City for the first time in the country’s post-Independence history. Several issues, however, overshadowed what was supposed to be a glorious event.

First, Covid-19 almost threatened the celebrations. Kisumu had a disproportionately high share of the daily infections in the days leading to the fete, forcing adjustments to the itinerary of the President and logistics for the day. Second was the continuation of the tensions between the Executive and Judiciary.

President Uhuru Kenyatta used his speech to raise concerns over what he termed as testing the constitutional limits by the Judiciary but was condemned by many as an attempt to interfere with the independence of this institution.

The celebrations were preceded by an inspection tour and commissioning of development projects in the region. It is not indisputable that the region has lagged in development over the years since Independence. The extent of this neglect is debatable but not that the region has received the short end of the stick in allocations and implementation of State projects.

Two commentators had an exchange over the issue online, attracting huge reactions. The mass media also debated the issue. In the process, several issues have emerged. First is whether the real challenge is ethnic discrimination, skewed distribution of resources or bad governance.

Listening to related conversations, it is clear that our efforts at building a united country is still a long way to go looking at the levels of ethnic sensitivities, defences and even animosities.

When concerns are raised that touch on tribes, members of an ethnic community defend the community’s name. It is interesting that they do so while castigating other communities.

Therefore, we need honest discussion about ethnic relations in the country. When the National Cohesion and Integration Commission was established, this was an urgent task. While the Constitution subsequently provided some guiding beacons for ensuring national cohesion, there are many softer issues that cannot be addressed by the law alone.

Many have suggested a national conversation. However, there does not seem to be honest interest in and momentum in making this a reality.

Occasionally, as happened in the recent Madaraka fete, emotions and controversies rear ugly head and threaten the foundation of our nationhood.

This must be addressed substantively and honestly. It can only be done through thoroughgoing discourse.

Secondly, the adoption of a devolved system of government was to provide the sustainable and radical shift on resources allocation and use. It has registered mixed results, depending on respect for prudence.

The danger with this is that the inequities that lead to ethnic polarisation do not get addressed in that instance. It is important that political leadership, the citizenry, and national and county government institutions all take an interest in addressing corruption.

Unless this is done, the quest to have a united country will be negatively impacted.

Additionally, there is a need to revisit how revenue is shared between the national government and the counties. While devolution came to ensure equity, it must be remembered that it only accounts for a small percentage of the total revenue.

Most of the resources are controlled by the national government. It is, therefore, not enough to tell regions that they have devolved funds.

During the period leading up to the adoption of the 2010 Constitution, there was a tendency in government to allocate resources based on political correctness. Thus, regions that were viewed to be opposition-leaning got punished by getting limited allocations.

Let’s interrogate the extent to which this practice has changed. If we do not, then we are chipping away at the promise of the constitutional transformation.