"Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are,” so goes the notable quote by Benjamin Franklin, one of America’s founding fathers.
The sentiments of the revered American political leader best capture the feelings of those fronting the case for secession in Kenya.
The import of Franklin’s observations is that those who are indifferent to injustices suffered by others can only feel the pinch if they get subjected to similar unjust experiences.
In resolving this matter, economics lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Dr David Ndii, has suggested that the country be divided into two states owing to continued hostile election disputes.
The proposal by Dr Ndii, who is also head of the technical team at National Super Alliance (Nasa), has been hailed and heavily criticised in equal measure.
Operatives allied to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Jubilee Party describe the secession suggestion as “unhealthy and dangerous”.
In all their anger and dealings, newly- elected Bomet County Governor Joyce Laboso implores the former Prime Minister Raila Odinga-led Nasa team not to divorce themselves from the rest of Kenya.
Dr Laboso denies Dr Ndii’s claim of a “cruel marriage” in Kenya and argues that Jubilee is simply more attractive to the electorate than Nasa.
Historian and commentator on political affairs Prof Macharia Munene similarly dismisses the secession talk: “This is nothing but hot air from an attention-seeker who has, over the years, demonstrated political greed. Only this time he has the support of some colleagues in academia like Dr Ndii, but I can assure you this crusade is headed nowhere.”
However, it is such “patronising positions”, as Suba North MP-elect Millie Odhiambo puts it, that confirm lamentations over intolerance by sections of Kenyans, hence the justification by the offended to opt out.
“This is the kind of arrogance and mental imprisonment we are talking about – they repeatedly stifle my democratic right by rigging out my preferred presidential candidate, then they do not even allow me the right to lament or protest about it. And now they tell me I cannot even opt out! I have a right to choose my political life free of intimidation and patronage,” she told the Nation.
Ms Odhiambo’s sentiments mirror the right to self-determination as enshrined in international law and the principles of state sovereignty and territorial integrity.
Judging from the literature coming through from Nasa operatives, and which has been widely shared on social media since the declaration of Mr Kenyatta as President-elect, the Odinga-led outfit may seriously be contemplating this route.
While Mr Odinga and his running mate Kalonzo Musyoka are challenging Kenyatta’s win in the Supreme Court, the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) leader has maintained that this time round “we shall not accept and move on”. A “Plan B” may be in the offing, should things not go their way at the Supreme Court.
Dr Ndii has previously explained that the move by Nasa is persuaded by endless frustrations owing to denial of justice through successive “sham elections”. Indeed, all key political players in the country have at one stage or another been victims of electoral malpractice.
The difference is that Mr Odinga has been a perennial victim, as compared to others like retired President Mwai Kibaki and Deputy President William Ruto, who managed to overcome the challenge. But while at it, they too threatened to secede.
As leader of official Opposition in 1998, Mr Kibaki led members of his Democratic Party from Central Kenya into calling for secession from the central government.
Speaking in Laikipia, the Opposition chief, who was accompanied by vocal legislators, including Kihika Kimani (Molo) and David Mwenje (Embakasi), was irked by the mass displacement and killing of his supporters, mostly from his ethnic community just before the 1997 General Election.
However, the notion of hiving off the Central Kenya region from the rest of the country fizzled out four years later upon Mr Kibaki’s election as Kenya’s third president.
But once in office the tables turned and it was now members of second President Daniel arap Moi’s community who were complaining of alleged injustices being meted out on them by the Kibaki administration.
Mr Ruto led legislators from the Rift Valley region in protests over members of his community being hounded out of senior positions in government.
Tempers heightened when the Kibaki administration started recovering property initially owned by the Kanu regime, including the Kenya International Convention Centre (KICC), which had served as Kanu headquarters for decades.
But it is the threat to drag the retired President (Moi) to court over land ownership cases that incensed the Ruto team the most.
They issued a terse warning against the move with Mr Ruto threatening that the Rift Valley region would secede.
But this narrative is now different, since the former Eldoret North MP became DP in 2013.
As Pentagon member of the Orange party, alongside Mr Ruto, Tourism Cabinet Secretary Najib Balala similarly called for secession after the highly disputed and discredited 2007 polls, in which his team and supporters at that time maintained Mr Odinga won.
Prof Macharia observes that secession talk has over the years been (mis)used by politicians to threaten and bully the government of the day into accommodating anti-establishment politicians. However, the historian singles out the rebellion from residents of northern Kenya and coastal region at independence as most serious. The rebellion mutated into the so-called Shifta war and it took military intervention for the Jomo Kenyatta government to quell the secession plot.
Not so long ago, a group calling itself the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) stirred up the same old controversy with a refrain “Pwani sio Kenya (Coastal region is not part of Kenya)”. Their main reasons for wanting to secede revolve around a chain of perceived injustices committed against the indigenous coastal people.
Although the level of seriousness of the current secession talk by Nasa remains unclear, the legal avenues of secession through the United Nations or African Union are fairly tedious.
While the UN and AU Charter on Human and People’s Rights recognise “a people’s right to self-determination”, the journey to a referendum and final territorial independence is long and tricky.
Closer home, Somaliland is yet to gain regional and international recognition 26 years after breaking away from Somalia, yet still the South Sudan case, which was arguably more compelling but which nonetheless took more than two decades to resolve, remains politically unstable.
Back home, following the 2007 post-election violence that claimed more than 1,000 lives, the former United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan-led team that brokered peace in the country set up – under the so-called Agenda Four – a Truth Justice and Reconciliation Commission. The idea behind TJRC was to review historical injustices with a view to helping the nation to resolve those ills and heal.
Part of the current friction, though, is due to the fact that the Kenyatta administration has exhibited disinterest in revisiting the past ills in the TJRC report.
During the campaigns, DP Ruto explained that doing so was tantamount to opening old wounds of a country “that was already in the process of healing”. Mr Odinga has maintained that the past cannot be wished away and the country will only heal if these injustices are addressed.
Amid this ping-pong, human rights activist Okiya Omtatah believes he has a fitting prescription for Kenya’s political and historical ailment. He advocates amendment of Article 138 of the Constitution to devolve the presidency by ensuring that a president is elected by a popular vote weighted at the county level.
“Each county would be assigned the number of electoral points equivalent to the number of constituencies it has plus one extra point underscoring that all counties are equal.
One would be required to win the popular vote in the number of counties required to garner at least 169 electoral points (being more than half (or 50% + 1) of the points),” proposes Mr Omtatah, who unsuccessfully vied for senatorial seat in Busia County.
That way, opines Mr Omtatah, the big five tribes – Kikuyu, Kalenjin, Luhya, Kamba and Luo – which dominate national politics in Kenya simply due to their sizeable populations will be cut down to size. The activist tried to push through the same proposal in the last Parliament but it never saw the light of the day.