Is Majimboism the Answer to Kenya’s Political Problems

In the 1960s, US writer, Paul Theroux, described Kenya as a “querulous republic”, as simply an assortment of ethnic communities fiercely competing for control of the centre. Did he see something in us, something that we have been unable to see ourselves, or maybe we have just refused to accept?

I have argued in the past against secession, as pushed by David Ndii, and argued instead for autonomous regions like the Majimbo Constitution one that was supported by Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala.

We need to go back to something like the Majimbo Constitution of 1963, the short-lived quasi federal experiment that divided legislative and executive powers between the central government and seven regions. Not only did it seek to create a framework for a just distribution of political power, but it aimed to safeguard the interests of the smaller ethnic groups from marginalization and domination by larger ethnic groups.

At independence, the Kikuyu-Luo alliance was the threat to smaller ethnic groups, and Masinde Muliro argued that federalism would protect the interests of the Kalenjin, Baluhya, and the coastal tribes. The African Kenya Democratic Union (KADU) was founded to defend the interests of the smaller tribes, the so called KAMATUSA (Kalenjin, Maasai, Turkana, and Samburu) against the dominance of Kikuyus and Luos in KANU.

Masinde Muliro argued that majimboism was ideal because it provided for “free association” and prevented “imposed unity”.

The Kikuyu-Luo alliance didn’t last long, and has often reappeared with more promises in our short history, but today, the fear is Kikuyu-Kalenjin alliance and the problems foresaw in 1963 are everywhere for everybody to see.

One would think Masinde Muliro foresaw the “tyranny of numbers” ideology.

That is history for you. What you support vehemently today will whip your ass tomorrow. The super brilliant KANU Secretary General, and then Minister for Constitutional Affairs, Tom Mboya, taunted Masinde Muliro’s ideas as “an experiment that [was full of] unworkable and unfair provisions”.

In his book, Not Yet Uhuru, Jaramogi Odinga wrote “the [majimbo] constitution was based on artificially engendered fears, for it is obvious that the European settlers and the British Government helped KADU and accorded it an importance out of proportion to its popular support.”

If Jaramogi was alive today, would he call them “artificially engendered fears”? He added that the a majimbo system was too expensive, in terms of money and personnel, and that it prevented the growth of nationhood and retarded economic development. That it was too legalistic and cumbersome, literally requiring a battery of legal experts and clerks at the Centre and Regions to interpret the dos and the don’ts hidden in the myriad legally worded clauses if it was ever to work.

Ha. Ha. Yet it is the failure of majimbo that opened the door to and strengthened Kenyatta’s Kikuyu-dominated oligarchy, and and Mboya and Odinga were the first victims.

There is a paper, “Is Majimbo Federalism? Constitutional Debate in a Tribal Shark Tank” published by Willy Mutunga and Peter Kagwanja on May 20, 2001. By then, Willy Mutunga was the Executive Director of the Kenya Human Rights Commission. Mr. Kagwanja, a doctoral candidate, is a Programme Associate at the Commission. It has a good number of arguments against Majimboism.

The original Bomas drafts had this 1963 vision but the Kibaki government mutilated it and if you are not a child, you can probably remember the anti-Raila propaganda about his talks on Majimboism. You can remember the talks that Raila wanted people to obtain visas while traveling to Mombasa and Kisumu bla bla. The kila mtu atarudi kwao.

In the end, the consensus was a watered down document, that preserved some core parts of the status quo – devolution and the county governments. Still, I have always viewed the 47 counties as an attempt to go back to that lost vision, especially if you look at how the counties are regrouping into economic blocks.

This is what Kenya needs. I believe this is what we lost when Jomo Kenyatta began centralizing the state and killing those who disagreed with his idea of turning the nation-state into his Kingdom.

Maybe we need to reread Masinde Muliro and Ronald Ngala, put KANU aside and relook at KADU’s ideas.

Maybe all we need to accept is that we are “a querulous republic”, now that we have evidence in our 50+ post-independence period, something that the Mboyas and Odingas did not have (they believed too much in Kenyatta’s ‘honesty’), and maybe go back to where we began and start again, on the right path.

2 thoughts on “Is Majimboism the Answer to Kenya’s Political Problems

  1. I’ve often found it peculiar that KANU is chanted everywhere by the young and old alike, while KADU is hardly ever mentioned, even in passing, in the common man’s discourse on Kenya’s political affairs. We should surely put KANU aside and reexamine KADU’s ideas.

  2. Pingback: Rethinking Tribe and Ethnicity in Relation to Political Mobilization in Africa |

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