Friday, November 19, 2010



Thursday, 18th November, 2010

By Jerry Okungu

New Vision

Kampala, Uganda

SO many things are going on in Kenya. By their nature, they all look explosive and emotive due to our current ethnic politics. Nobody can do anything, make any decision or even support an issue of public interest without another person sitting at some corner of the republic reading politics or tribalism into the discourse.

Despite promulgating our new constitution three months ago with definite timelines for transition from the old order to the new dispensation, it doesn’t seem to have occurred to a number of the current leadership in politics and public service that it cannot be business as usual. We are still busy playing the old and tired ethnic cards that have ruined our country for years. Despite the constitution having abolished provinces and replaced them with counties, we are still talking of our regions and provinces.

Take the case of the current controversy on how the 80 new constituencies have been distributed countrywide. Some MPs from parts of Kenya are up in arms that they were not given enough new seats; never mind that the seats were distributed on the basis of the prescribed guidelines set out by the constitution—that population numbers and geographical expansiveness would be priority in curving out new constituencies.

Now some individuals have gone to court to stop the gazettement of the new constituencies as provided for by an Act of Parliament that created the Interim Independent Boundaries Commission. And it is easy to see why the new constituencies have blown up into another ethnic battleground.

Whereas MPs from six old provinces are happy with the distribution, their counterparts from Central and some parts of Eastern provinces are miffed by the developments. In this scenario, the latter MPs have thrown caution to the wind and blamed six of the nine commissioners for conspiring to deny them more seats and of course the presidency in the next elections. And the fact that the outgoing chairman of the Commission has been an ODM member and hails from Western Province has not helped matters much.

Now we see the situation degenerating in Parliament. It is slowly snowballing into a contest pitting ethnic communities in Central and parts of Eastern provinces—regions that have an interest in the presidency against the rest of the country.

This debate has the potential to prepare ground for another round of ethnic violence unless the present coalition government comes out to condemn these retrogressive leaders. The fact that the Government Printer failed to print the special Gazette Notice that should have legalised the new constituencies speaks volumes. Despite denials, it is obvious someone somewhere gave the orders that the document should not be printed.

The schemers of this sabotage may not have thought through the consequences of their action. Alternatively, they anticipated the same reaction they have received and actually wanted it that way so that the process of creating new constituencies can be stalled for sometime. Yes, this stunt may just create a stand-off between Parliament and the Executive for sometime with dire consequences for the implementation process.

The challenge Kenya now has is how to transform the country in accordance with the requirements of the new constitution with anti-reform elements still intact in the government. Reality is dawning on Kenyans that the biblical new wine in old skin can never survive. Either the old skin gives way or it destroys the flavour of the new wine. For how else can Kenyans expect technocrats that served in the Kenyatta and Moi regimes to accept change?

Once you have been around for between 40 and 50 years on the job, only a miracle can make you change the way you do things. There are some people in this government that cannot get over the fact that the new constitution has outlawed blatant abuse of office, issue of clandestine orders to punish their imagined enemies or use ethnicity as a criterion to reward or deny Kenyans employment opportunities.

It will be an uphill task implementing the new constitution before 2012 if MPs cannot even agree on the new constituencies; a development that can easily degenerate into ethnic conflict just as we did in 2007 and 2008. The more reason the East African Community members must keep an eye on Kenya because this country is an important economic player in the entire region.