Removal of provinces promises a new beginning for Kenya
By Prof. Maurice Amutabi, Central Washington University
The proposed new constitution promises to remove provinces as we know them today in Kenya. Contrary to what we are hearing, this is the main reason some sections of Kenya politicians are opposed to the new constitution. It is not about land, abortion or kadhi courts. It is about the fate of provinces, especially the Rift Valley. Some politicians have always used their home provinces as their bargaining chips at the national level. They used them as personal fiefdoms from which to lock others. Kenya is among few countries in Africa that have retained these ridiculous, colonial administrative structures and units which were created to serve the colonial project. It is good that we are getting rid of them, even though we are seeking to do so 40 years late. It is possible that the Committee of Experts on Constitutional Review (CoE) and even Members of Parliament may not have known the implications of the removal of these entities in Kenya. This is perhaps the most significant change that will emerge out of the new constitution, because provincial boundaries are very artificial and unreasonable, especially the illogicality of their intensions. For example the Rift Valley was created as a way of protecting the white settler minority from surrounding African reserves. It allowed the white settlers to be in one province in which they were assured of being a significant minority and bigger say. Provinces should have been disbanded at independence and replaced by democratic institutions. It has never made sense for example, for someone from Ngong in Kajiado district having to travel to Nakuru to visit the provincial head office for services.
We also know that provincial boundaries, especially involving the Rift, Central and Nyanza have been areas of tension and they have created wrong illusions about regionalism, because some politicians see them as personal fiefdoms. Some politicians have even looked at the present boundaries as natural and inviolable, and have fought to retain them, intact. This thinking came to the surface when some MPs proposed regions as the second level in the three tier system and was largely responsible for breakup of horse trading between some Rift Valley and Central Kenya MPs during the night meetings during the KIA retreat. They could not agree on boundaries of proposed regions for the simple reason that they feel some regions belong to certain ethnic groups and cannot be broken up. My submission is that the removal of these colonial administrative units will guarantee a new beginning for Kenya. The new constitution will create counties and therefore new realities based on mutual development needs of members of the counties (based on districts in pre-1992 period). Provinces are unrealistic entities, and have been responsible for too much bureaucracy, red tape and hoarding of resources. Provincial boundaries are also partly to blame for ethnic clashes in 1992, 1997 and 2007 because they were used in defining insider and outsider, indigenous and non-indigenous.
The proposed constitution will remove the notion that some provinces belong to certain ethnic groups, because counties will become the new internal units of group articulation and organization. This will eliminate existing provincial ethnic chiefs and allow for genuine leadership to emerge based on the grassroots. Contrary to what has been propagated by some politicians opposed to the proposed constitution, the counties will not be headed by councillors. Also, arguments based on population are misleading, for that will only apply to creation of constituencies, which are totally different from county boundaries. In fact, the proposed counties approximate to what in Nigeria are known as States. Nigeria has 37 states at present, each under a governor. Abuja, the capital enjoys special status as the capital. The proposed constitution promises Nairobi similar treatment, as a county. This the 47 counties in the proposed constitution will serve as states, in a way. The problem with those opposing the constitution is that they imagine things in what they have always known, and not what is envisaged, which is understandable for politicians who do not seek to educate themselves on anything new. Many of them are also used to having their way, even against popular opinion. The population argument, where Kiambu with a bigger population and many constituencies is juxtaposed with Mandera with a smaller and fewer constituencies is not illogical because one has a choice to leave Kiambu and go to Mandera if they so feel that Mandera is benefitting. This is the logic that guides advanced democracies and countries like the United States, where tiny Rhode Island has the same number of senators (2) as giant California and Texas. It is the same logic used when Alaska with a population of 650,000 has the same number of senators (2) with California which has 36 million people. Furthermore, people in Alaska are exempted from paying taxes in order to encourage individuals to settle there. Individuals have a choice to make to move around the country, and the same will apply to Kenya, for those who feel that they want to go to areas where they can optimize on their potential; they are free to do so.
Removal of provinces will eliminate ‘zoning’ which we often witness during elections in Kenya. It will remove artificial alliances that have been formed to exclude others. However, more fundamental in the removal of provinces will be the saving of a lot of money by Kenyan tax payers. The amount of money saved from getting rid of large bureaucracies and salaries for provincial officials and their pecks will run into billions. Money saved from paying and maintaining PCs, DCs and DOs will go towards the development of counties. County governments will have resources to spend on local development without interference from unaccountable chiefs, DOs, DCs and PCs.
Ethnic and regional tensions will also be minimized by elimination of provinces. At independence in 1960, Nigeria was a divided into three regions which operated like federations. The problem was that the three regions were hijacked by three major ethnic groups. The western region was hijacked by the Yoruba, the Eastern region by the Ibo and the Northern region by the Hausa-Fulani alliance. In fact the Ibo dominate of the Eastern region was largely to blame for the Biafra war which lasted from 1967 to 1970s in which many died. There are reports which indicate that the creation of states has almost eliminated ethnic hostility, although Nigeria suffers from religious tensions. Nigeria has had these 37 states since 1996. South Africa is divided into 9 regions which were created based largely on economic considerations. Senegal is divided into 45 departments (similar to districts) and closest to what is in proposed for Kenya in the proposed constitution. One also hopes that there will be an end to creation of counties (districts) at roadsides and rallies by the President, like in Uganda where Museveni has created 80 districts or Ghana where every incoming president creates over ten new districts to the point that Ghana has now 138 districts today. The proposed constitution should make it hard to create new counties and should demand 3 quarters of MPs like the current constitution which requires at least 145 MPs to change the constitution.
The proposed constitution is a bit vague on how sub-counties and villages will be decided and how they will be governed. It means that parliament will define these lower levels of government and this is where most abuse tends to occur. Having power to spend 15% of the country’s income will make counties powerful and real actors in development. Infrastructure, mainly buildings vacated by provincial officials in Mombasa, Nyeri, Nakuru, Kakamega, Embu, Garissa and Kisumu should be transferred to the respective counties.