I was indignant when some people in Kisumu recently waxed irate on hearing that Prime Minister Raila Odinga’s sister Ruth had expressed interest in becoming the lakeside town’s first governor.
What galled me is that an interested party argued that Ruth does not qualify to run for the governor’s seat because she is not from the city.
Where should she run? I asked. A finger was contemptuously jabbed in the direction of Siaya County. What is emerging here is that there is a school of thought – or emotion – which says that the governor of the city must come from the city.
Does having a business in a city, residing in it or having property in it qualify one as hailing from the city? Then Ruth qualifies, or does she not?
Now consider this scenario. We have a community that is dominant in a county and it has its daughters or sons gunning for the governor’s, senator’s and women’s representative’s seats.
There is a likelihood that these three seats could go to members of this community. Democracy is, of course, about majorities, so you cannot argue against their victories.
It appears to me the counties may be the next centres of conflict. I think we should begin to take a very keen interest in Dr Mzalendo Kibunjia’s campaign for negotiated democracy.
It is a model that Dr Kibunjia, the chairman of the National Cohesion and Integration Commission (NCIC), has been championing in Nakuru County.
By negotiated democracy Dr Kibunjia wants communities in certain counties to discuss among themselves and arrive at seat sharing formulae for the counties ahead of the next General Election. Dr Kibunjia’s position is that if this is not done some communities will be left out of the leadership and decision-making processes of their counties.
The import of this statement is simply that the marginalised people will be embittered and their anger may find expression in destructive forms that could include a boycott of elections or refusal to recognise the results or which two could lead to their refusal to honour their obligations to the county government.
That is a recipe for disaster because the reason we are headed for devolved government is simply that we are supposed to take charge of our resources and manage them for our development. Now the allocation, management and use of resources are tied to leadership and especially political leadership. And leaders are chosen and/or rejected at the ballot.
But there is a challenge. While it makes sense in terms of mitigating conflict over seats, negotiated democracy Kibunjia-style may deny the electorate the right to choose the leaders they desire.
And it may also deny some people the right to run for elective office because ultimately this arrangement means only one candidate will represent a community in a given race.
Thirdly Dr Kibunjia & Co have been presiding over discussions between elders from mainly the two dominant communities. As happened in Nakuru, these elders could be rejected by the very communities they purport to speak for or those who seek to run for elective offices. There exists the possibility that aspirants and vested interests could ignore them.
In Nakuru the politicians have bluntly refused to recognise the negotiations and their resolutions because Dr Kibunjia did not consult them. The point the elected politicians and their rivals are making is that they have a stake in what goes on in their communities and cannot relinquish their roles for un-elected councils of elders.
Dr Kibunjia is right and deserves support in his endeavours to bring about negotiated democracy and ensure peace in the counties and country.
But he may have reckoned without the politics which is about the resources of counties and how they should be distributed. You cannot exclude elected politicians from these talks.
If you leave them out, they will fight you and what you stand for. It makes sense to invite them to the caucuses and to impress on them the absolute need for them to own the process from conception to fruition.
If they balk at what they see and hear and walk out, they will be on the defensive. It will be up to them to persuade Kenyans that Dr Kibunjia’s idea is unworkable. To leave them out is to give them ammunition to question Dr Kibunjia’s motives.
Still, good people, I want Dr Kibunjia to succeed, but I am not persuaded negotiated democracy is good for democracy. As I say, I hope I’m wrong, I fear I’m right.
Kwendo Opanga is a media consultant firstname.lastname@example.org