Constituency, District and County Names in Kenya Should be Neutral and not Clan or Ethnic
By Maurice N. Amutabi
Although Kenya is creating changes predicated on the new constitution, there are still issues that need urgent attention. The issue of names of constituencies, districts and counties has been overlooked and yet it carries a lot of undercurrents that may undermine efforts at national cohesion and integration. Some names of constituencies, districts and counties remain ethnic, creating the impression that only members of the given ethnic group have legitimacy to reside or run for positions in them. Names such as Nandi, Kisii, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Embu, Taita-Taveta, Elegeyo-Marakwet, West Pokot and Turkana should be immediately expunged from our list of counties and be replaced by neutral names. This is a legitimate effort at cohesion and integration.
Nandi County has a significant number of members from other ethnic groups, but who will be perceived by the members of the Nandi ethnic group as outsiders, due to the name of the county. The proper name for this county should be Kapsabet County, which is a name of the main town in the county, and which is neutral. Kapsabet is more neutral and does not create any aspects of discrimination. It will be noted that Counties which bear ethnic names have in the past had ethnic clashes because residents of those counties see any newcomers as outsiders and treat them as such.
The same problem goes for Kisii County which also needs to have a neutral name, because not all those who reside in Kisii County belong to the Abagusii ethnic group. This county needs a neutral name in order to convey the spirit of cohesion and integration. Similarly, all districts and constituency names should be derived from towns and rivers and mountains and such neutral names than clan names like we see in Kisii and Nyamira. These constituencies do not belong to clans and there is no need why they are named after clans. The constitution states that any Kenyan can run for election in any constituency and the constituencies need to bear neutral names.
Meru and Tharaka-Nithi Counties also need neutral names. These counties have other communities residing in them and not just the Meru and Tharaka and Nithi communities. The names leave out groups like Igembe and Imenti. There should not districts or constituencies named after clans or sub-ethnic groups such as Igembe or Imenti. The government should decide on new names for these ethnic names through consultation with leaders and the people. Where many names are opposed, the government should organize local referenda where majority votes determine which name to use.
Taita-Taveta County can be called Voi which is the main town in the area, and Elegeyo-Marakwet County can be called Iten County, while counties such as West Pokot can be called Kapenguria and Turkana can be called Lodwar, taking after the main towns as well. The same should apply to constituencies that bear ethnic and clan labels such as Kikuyu Constituency or those found largely in Kisii, Nyamira and Meru. These names should be removed totally from Kenyan political map because we need to put integration into action.
There are many districts which bear ethnic and clan names and which should also be removed. Names such as Kuria can be replaced by Kehancha, which is the main town in the area. Names such as Ugenya, Gem, Alego-Usonga, should be replaced by more neutral names such as those of town centres. Many county names in Central Kenya such as Kiambu Muranga, Nyeri and Kirinyaga are neutral, the same to Western Province where names of counties are taken from main towns, such as Kakamega, Busia, Bungoma and Vihiga. It is in Nyanza where clan names seem to dominate, even in the naming of urban centres, especially in Kisii. Except for Taita Taveta County, coast province has neutral names for counties and constituencies.
The good examples of naming constituencies, districts and counties after main town should be encouraged across the country. This will create neutrality in the minds of residents. It will make all residents feel legitimate and have a sense of belonging and not be regarded as outsiders.
Prof. Maurice Amutabi teaches Political Science at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa