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This is not just about revenue, but justice beyond the White Highlands

Saturday August 01 2020
SENATE

Senators in the chamber during a special sitting on March 31, when the Senate debated the Division of Revenue Bill 2020. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP

By ERICK NG'ENO

This has been the week of strange and uncomfortable conversations everywhere one turns. It strongly featured the Senate as an institution, as a legislative assembly and also through one of its members, who is alleged to have been arrested after an unseemly altercation with police officers who found him socialising, hours into the curfew.

The entire fiasco would have been unremarkable, except for a portion of the proceedings where the good leader is said to have threatened to ensure officers are transferred. “Transfer” was mouthed with a ferocious emphasis, and various destinations were recited with vindictive vehemence, suggesting that our national vernacular categorises these spots as ‘hell on earth’.

Traditionally, deployment to those certain regions was a loud signal that one is deficient, unfit and undesirable. It is intended and understood to be a humiliating punishment to be avoided at all costs or endured shamefully.

This tradition is colonial in origin. Colonial administration focused all its resources and attention on the areas that showed potential according to its immediate requirements, and considered all other parts of the territory useless.

WHITE HIGHLANDS

While the White Highlands were lavished with ‘development’, its native inhabitants were enslaved. On the other hand, while the hardship areas and frontier districts were utterly neglected, its indigenous inhabitants were considerably freer. The era of uhuru therefore saw two different constituencies wage violent war in reaction to disparate injustices.

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At independence, the Africanised state used all means to quell all agitation, including assassinating resilient freedom fighters and waging the brutal shifta war against the seccessionists in Northern Kenya. At the same time, the government formally opted to continue colonial economic and administrative policies.

This continuity was Africanised using the most cynical propaganda work of all time: the Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965. The upshot of this fateful document was that the White Highlands were officially designated as high potential, productive, high priority focuses for investment and support while the rest of the country was an onerous burden to be endured – although it frankly could go to hell – as long as no one seceded.

This, in short, is the reason Kenya remains a desperately poor, yet intensely unequal, society. It is the reason, as a matter of state policy, certain parts of Kenya are seen in a certain type of way. In broad strokes, it is also the genesis of much of the conflict and instability that has haunted our land from the still night of our nation’s birth. It is our founding curse.

Generations of gallant Kenyans struggled and paid a painful price to subdue the monstrous manifestations of this curse. They were not successful. Multi-party democracy seemed to pour oil, not on troubled waters, but on raging fires.

LOST CAUSES

From 1992 to 2007, every important discourse devolved into bloody mayhem. Looking upon the lessons of our many lost causes, visionary Kenyans finally resolved to purge our founding curse by reformulating the founding values of our Republic.

The Constitution of Kenya 2010 is our ticket out of hell. It gives us an effective, responsive, citizen-centred and human-rights-based central state when we need it, and also devolution when we want to do our thing.

 It also recognises that many components of the hardship that traditionally characterised marginalised areas are merely resultant expressions of callous injustice and inhuman neglect that typified official policy.

To build a strong, united, inclusive and prosperous nation, these injustices must be expunged through resource allocations that signify strong intent to right enduring wrongs of the past.

At the Senate this week, therefore, was not merely a contested revenue allocation formula; the real contest was one about justice, and whether it matters outside the White Highlands.

At the same time, there was a coup attempt. Ethnic nationalists and reactionaries rallied behind Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965 to overthrow the Constitution of Kenya 2010.

This faction argues that a shilling spent in the White Highlands is a wise investment, while every cent spent in other parts of Kenya is reckless waste. ‘Frontier districts’ and ‘marginal areas’ are only good as dumping grounds for undesirable policies and personnel.

Granted, the revenue sharing basis demands periodic revision to remain compliant with the Constitution because socioeconomic feedback is dynamic. Granted, also, the one-man-one-shilling bandwagon have valid claims that should be robustly canvassed in our democratic framework.

Even so, it was not necessary to frame the contest in the terms we witnessed. Bare appeals to toxic ethno-regionalism, in a manner calculated to resurrect untameable animosities, and the reminder that ‘other’ Kenyan regions are transfer dumping grounds, are not worth anyone’s while at all.

It was, therefore, quite heartening to see our erstwhile besieged Senator on the floor of the Senate, atoning for his intemperate threat by switching the term ‘transfer’ from unjust implications to signal fundamental justice instead.

Mr Ng’eno is an advocate of the High Court; Twitter: @EricNgeno

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