By HASSAN MALIK MOHAMED
- I urge the people to shun elders and elites who want to abuse the concept of negotiated democracy in a blatant attempt to capture power and resources disguised under the architecture of devolution.
- Devolution is about the development of counties and not self-centred elders and elites.
The advent of devolution four years ago gave the residents of northern Kenya immense hope of development. The good news is that progress has begun to be felt and smelt in the expansive region through the construction of roads and improved access to health care. However, the misapplication of the concept of negotiated democracy now stands out as one of the biggest threats to the region’s future.
Local elites, who have apparently found highly dubious means of wealth creation in the devolved system, are increasingly misusing elders to make biased governance decisions. Once they secretly notify the councils of elders about who should vie for what seat and who should step down, the elders begin to market the decisions on their behalf during meetings with members of the clans they represent. The aim here is to manipulate clan members to believe the decision embodies the cultural and religious concept of
maslah (common good). It is worth noting that maslah is not limited to politics. Elders also rely on the noble concept of the common good to solve disputes and cases such as rape. But eyebrows have been raised about how maslah judgments are arrived at nowadays, given that the remedies are seen to increase the problems, rather than reducing them. Another marketing strategy for mobilisation is to create a “siege mentality” that if Clan X doesn’t vote for the leaders endorsed by their elders, then they ominously risk being oppressed by others upon their ascension to leadership positions. Sometimes even feuds between clans are incited or reignited to prove animosity.
Sadly, the fact that a whopping 60 per cent of the population in the region is illiterate provides fodder for blind loyalty to the elders and elites. Those who are educated are either complicit in the bastardisation of negotiated democracy or largely choose to avoid taking a stand because of maxaigagaley (it-doesn’t-concern-me) mentality. They do not realise that it is politics that influences even the basic things such as the price of unga or the tax they pay.
These powerful elders are always handsomely rewarded for their shepherding prowess. They draw monthly stipends and salaries. Some receive “nomination” fees as a senior leader revealed in a past discussion of the subject on NTV’s breakfast show, Am Live , they get cars, beautiful houses and if one is lucky to have educated children or other close relatives, then employment will not be an issue. That leadership would be a cash cow for some is not in the spirit of the political concept of negotiated democracy. This system was designed to create inclusiveness in polities where there are huge disparities and imbalances in demographics in terms of tribe, clans, race or religion in order to avert resentments and subsequent conflicts over power and resources.
It is that motive for equity and justice that I believe made former National Cohesion and Integration Commission chairperson Mzalendo Kibunja to endorse the concept in the run-up to the last General Election in 2013.
Anyone who understands where we are coming from as a region will agree with me that we cannot afford to kill the blessings of devolution through political engagements that are petty, parochial and self-centred.
Prior to devolution, the region lagged behind in virtually all the sectors due to marginalisation by the successive regimes, including the colonial one that resulted in resentment and underdevelopment. When you compare, for example, the monies the three counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera have received in the last four years with what they collectively got under the centralised governments in the last 50 years, you will understand the impact of marginalisation.
Summarising the situation of the region in the past, American writer and adventurer James Farson once said: “There is one half of Kenya about which the other half knows nothing and seems to care even less [about]”.
I urge the people to shun elders and elites who want to abuse the concept of negotiated democracy in a blatant attempt to capture power and resources disguised under the architecture of devolution. Devolution is about the development of counties and not self-centred elders and elites.
Institutions that do oversight on ethics, governance and public finances should heighten their work in the counties to ensure that leadership positions and attendant resources are not misused or stolen by occupiers of those public offices.
Hassan Malik Mohamed is a ‘Nation’ correspondent based in Garissa.