If one was to make a simple and concise case about the most critical factors that hold Africa back, the issue of numerous, illogical and artificial borders would surely rank very near the top of the list.
Sixteen countries on the continent are landlocked including six of the 10 countries at the bottom of the United Nations’ Human Development Index.
Numerous institutions including the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa have strongly advocated the need for greater integration within Africa, for the dissolving of artificial borders and made the case for the obvious merits of unity across colonial borders to buttress economic progress and to drain the poison of inter-ethnic rivalry within the old colonial nations.
The benefits of such an approach should be obvious.
While 68 per cent of commerce in Western Europe in the last decade was with other West European nations, and 48 per cent within North America is between the United States, Canada and Mexico, inter-regional trade in all of Africa stands at between 10 and 13 per cent.
Boosting this by softening borders would obviously have vast beneficial effects.
It was, therefore, astonishing, to read an otherwise respectable public intellectual like David Ndii make the claim in the Saturday Nation on March 26, 2016 that Kenya should be broken up into numerous tribal enclaves because the nation, in his reading, is an “abusive relationship”.
Dr Ndii assumes that the reasons for Kenya being an unsustainable construct are so obvious that he does not even bother to outline them.
He simply proceeds to carve up the nation into new “imagined communities”, depressingly configured along ethnic lines which he gleefully proclaims will survive on their own without the other.
Well, every time an American election comes along, it has become customary to see humorous articles appear in the press about how those who are unwilling to accept the results of the poll will leave the country and emigrate to one of the country’s neighbours, usually Canada.
Those articles are always light-hearted because everyone knows that nobody will take such a drastic action simply because their candidate lost the election.
Despite many promises, few Democrats stormed out of America to make a new life in Canada merely because George W Bush defeated John Kerry in 2004.
The understanding, of course, is that in a democracy, there will be some winners and losers, and after the election, the contestants must come together and find a way to make common cause and build the nation.
But in Kenya’s case, Dr Ndii is not engaging in satire. He is dead serious.
But obviously, dead wrong at the same time.
It does not take a very great leap of imagination to know what Dr Ndii’s political stand is.
He approaches every analysis he pens with the rigidity of thought that reminds one of the quote by the American author and composer Oscar Levant: “There are two sides to every question: my side and the wrong side.”
NO INTELLECTUAL HUMILITY
He effuses not a trace of intellectual humility and does not accept that perhaps he might be misinformed or that the government can ever do anything right.
The interest rates have risen?
The International Monetary Fund is coming!
Kenya is going to be mortgaged!
Of course, when nothing of the sort happens and the crisis passes, he will not be heard to say a thing and will move on.
All this is fine because a columnist has the right to take strong opinions.
But his latest call to split up the country verges on incitement and ranks as irresponsibility on an order that one imagined was beyond even him, however embittered he might be about the fact his favoured candidate did not win the last election.
It is a matter of public record that Dr Ndii is one of the activists who vocally backed the Okoa Kenya referendum initiative.
His disappointment that it failed is understandable. But to use his privileged perch to call for the breakup of the nation is to engage in an act of intellectual dishonesty that is breathtakingly disingenuous.
First, Dr Ndii advocates that there should be violence at the next election if the outcome does not favour his preferred candidate.
“If Uhuru Kenyatta is declared winner in another sham election, this country will burn.”
Just one question. Will there be any violence in the doubtless middle or upper class neighbourhood in which Dr Ndii lives?
It is well known that in 2007/8 all the violence in Nairobi was concentrated in poor neighbourhoods and slums, where people were manipulated by comfortable elites to fight on behalf of those elites who sought power.
TYRANNY OF PEACE
Like the other intellectuals and activists who preach against what they haughtily call “the tyranny of peace”, the activists are more likely to be found writing proposals for NGO funding to “tackle impunity” after the violence is over.
More pertinently, the people who comfortably call for the breakup of nations to align with ethnic borders are so stunningly ignorant of the difficulties which arise from such arrangements, they should be urgently re-educated on what the lesson of history on this score has been.
What happens to newly minted minorities?
Does Dr Ndii know a thing about the bloody contestation between Dinka and Nuer elites in South Sudan?
Has he any clue about the diversity and complexity of the “Pwani” entity he proposes?
What becomes of Kisiis and Kurias in the “Luo nation” he talks about?
What about the Meru and Embu and Mbeere and Kamba minorities in the so-called Mt Kenya nation?
Hasn’t devolution offered us a far gentler way to distribute resources and spread power to the grassroots without the disruption that would arise from such an outlandish proposal?
Intellectuals who wield great power should be careful not to incite the masses to pursue wars of folly like those witnessed in old Yugoslavia, where vast amounts of blood were shed to little obvious avail.
The central view by Benedict Anderson, the intellectual whose theories Dr Ndii grossly distorts to advance his ludicrous theory, was in fact that a nation could be “imagined”.
By implication, he argued that through hard work a better union could be achieved as in his beloved adopted nation of Indonesia.
Kenya is not perfect and should be made better.
But one cannot simply break up the nation every time their candidate loses an election much as if every couple divorced after a quarrel, there would be no married couples left on earth.
The writer is MP Mbeere South