We must listen to the cries of secessionists

Tuesday September 5 2017

Mombasa Republican Council

Some of the Mombasa Republican Council members appear in a Mombasa court on March 7, 2017 for the mention of their case. The group was pushing for separation from mainland Kenya, citing economic marginalisation. PHOTO | LABAN WALLOGA | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

More by this Author

The wind of the secession movement has been blowing the world over for centuries.

In Europe, Norway broke away from Sweden, Belgium from the Netherlands and, recently, Britain from the European Union (EU).

In Africa, Eritrea seceded from Ethiopia, Djibouti from Somalia and South Sudan from Sudan, just to mention a few.

Secession calls are not new to Kenya either.

About four years ago, the inhabitants of the coastal strip of the country wanted to separate from mainland Kenya in the name of Mombasa Republican Council (MRC), citing economic marginalisation.

However, the separatist movement faced strong headwinds after its leaders were incarcerated.

Opponents of secession, guided by the fear of losing part of their power and resources, cite failed states after secession as the locus of their arguments.

However, my two-pence thought on whether secession is good or bad is that, as long as the rationale for separation is valid, no secession call is evil and each should be interrogated on a case by case basis, on its own merit.

Do those calling for Kenya to separate into the alluded People’s Republic of Kenya and the Central Republic of Kenya really justified to do so? My answer is yes.

My argument is hinged on the ‘Just Cause Theory’, which holds that secession should be considered to rectify grave injustices.

Our country has experienced serious economic marginalisation, ethnic cleansing and land injustices, just to mention a few.

To add salt to injury, the government of the day has blatantly refused to implement the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation Commission (TJRC) report that was to deal with historical injustices.

The country is also quite unequal economically with a few parts enjoying economic prosperity as a majority of the populace languishes in absolute poverty, 50 years after Independence.

Economic development projects have, for as long as I can remember, distributed based on being in good books with the government of the day.

I know you will argue that we now have county governments in place to ensure equitable development.

But look here: Only about 30 per cent of lagged gross domestic product (GDP) goes to the counties with the bulk of resources left with the national governments, which has just a few functions.

It’s no longer news to see the Presidency dishing out economic goodies to politically friendly zones on visits while areas deemed unfriendly are forsaken.

Calls for secession will not cease as long as a big chunk of the population is chronically economically disenfranchised with little or no hope of improvement.

On the question of whether secession makes economic sense, my answer is an absolute ‘yes’.

Drawing insights from the existing wealth of knowledge and experience from successful separations the world over, it’s common knowledge that, when secession is treated as a process rather than an event, then the ‘divorcing’ countries enjoy long-term economic dividends.

There are nations that have flourished after breaking away from their former unitary states.

Those that have revolutionised their socio-economic institutions after separation have enjoyed huge economic benefits.

My parting shot is, any government worth its salt must never muzzle peaceful secession calls with brute force and threats but intelligently counteract them with alternative ideologies.

Mr Obuya is a consultant with Radiant Consulting Ltd and lecturer of finance and economics at a local university. [email protected]