Thursday, August 14, 2008



By Jerry Okungu
August 14, 2008

Listen to what a Member of Parliament from the Coast said recently as reported in the Kenya Times of August 13, 2008:

“COAST members of Parliament have renewed calls for a majimbo system of government and threatened to stage demonstrations should an ‘outsider’ be appointed to head the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA). Kaloleni MP Kazungu Kambi also accused Prime Minister Raila Odinga of taking “legislators from the region for granted,” claiming that he demeaned them during his recent visit to the region. The Shirikisho MP who said he was speaking on behalf of his other colleagues from the area, called on Raila to push for the introduction of majimboism as he pledged during the campaigns.

Kambi also vowed to lead the legislators in ensuring the interests of the area residents were addressed, saying the region had been marginalised by the successive governments since independence. Addressing a Press conference at Parliament Buildings, the MP said the legislators from the region would fight to the bitter end to ensure the chief executive officer of KPA hailed from the area.

“We are not happy with the remarks made by the Prime Minister to the effect that we (MPs) from the region are engaged in petty politics,” he said. The MP also defended former KPA boss Abdalla Mwaruwa over accusations of poor performance, saying the main problem at the port was congestion.”

It is evident from this news report that Coast members of Parliament are up in arms. One of their own has been removed from the Kenya Ports Authority for non-performance and they are not buying that line of argument. They are crying foul. They say their region is being marginalized by the government they brought to power. They assert that despite the Coast being a tourist destination, all economic activities including prime land at their beaches have been owned and exploited by their upcountry counterparts since independence. For these reasons, they are now demanding for the immediate implementation of the Majimbo government as promised in the ODM manifesto during the 2007 campaigns.

I hold no brief for the Government of Kenya. But one thing I do know; that much as our Coast brothers may have genuine concerns the way successive governments have marginalized them for four decades, this violent verbal epithet may not be the best way to sort out the mess.

Our leaders from the Coast must face the reality and grow up. They cannot pretend to solve the region’s political problems through cheap village politics. They must initiate and sponsor serious motions in Parliament to force reforms at the national level. Having a Majimbo government is not a simple as forming a Kaya Council of Elders. The reality is that we have at the moment a unitary government guided by a unitary constitution. This constitution provides for the right of every Kenya citizen including our coastal brothers to work, trade and live anywhere in the Republic including the freezing Mt. Kenya region.

Our coast brothers must remember that even if we had a Majimbo government some institutions and installations such as the Port of Mombasa, Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and other airports in the country would never be regional institutions. Even in civilized America and the UK, there are installations and institutions such as Heathrow, JF Kennedy Airport and large installations like NASA that must remain national for the good of the larger society.

The case of the Port of Mombasa is even more critical than Jomo Kenyatta International Airport or any other international airport in Kenya. It is the only gateway to the entire Eastern and Central African region. We have landlocked countries that must rely on Kenya’s Port of Mombasa for their livelihood. It is the kind of facility that, if not managed prudently and efficiently, can cause conflict in the entire region.

Just the other day, when Kenya was in conflict, the kind of economic suffering that the conflict subjected the rest of Kenya and the rest of East Africa was mind boggling. Tales coming from Rwanda, Burundi, the DRC and Uganda were heart rendering simply because the main highway linking the Port of Mombasa and the rest of them region was under siege.

More importantly; for national security reasons in this era of terror attacks from neighboring countries, the Port of Mombasa, just like JKIA, Kisumu, Wilson, Eldoret and Malindi Airports must remain the property of the national government. Their efficiency means better security for our country. No amount of parochial politics should dissuade us from revising this stand. Therefore may the best man or woman from the Mijikendo, Dorobo, Turkana and Rendile be allowed to run them without looking at the ethnic and regional pigmentation!

The facilities at the Port of Mombasa, like those of JKIA, Moi International Airport and many other institutions in the country have been developed with taxpayers’ money from every Kenyan Citizen. This the reason today Luos cannot stop any Kenya from any part of the country from heading Lake Victoria Basin Commission, Lake Basin Authority, Sondu Miriu Power Plant and Chemelil Sugar Company. As long as I can remember, I have never seen a Luo appointment to head the Ahero Irrigation Scheme that is in the heartland of Luoland.

If every Kenyan had to think like our Coast brothers, Kikuyus would manage all tourist hotels in Nairobi and Mt. Kenya area. They would demand executive positions in every manufacturing plant and Bank in Nairobi on the basis that these institutions are situated on their soil. They would be demanding to head the University of Nairobi, Kenyatta University and Jomo Kenyatta University. The Masais would ensure all tourist lodges in Masai Mara are headed by one of their own.

Right now Kenya has eight provinces. If each province were to be headed by a local from the region, what would happen to our national cohesion? These are the national institutions that need to be respected and guarded against parochialism and village politics until we change our current constitution .

That is why the Kenya Navy, based at the Coast of Mombasa can never be headed by a coastal merely on the basis of region. All coastals that have headed the Kenya Navy before like General Kibwana were appointed to that position purely on merit rather than regional parochialism.
And even if we were to go the Majimbo way, institutions like the Kenya Ports Authority would never be left in the hands of locals.
It is a reality that reckless politicians must live with from now on.