It’s time to stop the craze for regional parties and focus on national unity through the BBI
By JACOB OKETCH
There is a narrative gaining currency that the way to go is to form regional political parties. The argument is to fortify the gains of a particular region. This idea puts political parties in sharp focus when it comes to the nurturing of a cohesive society. We need to ask ourselves whether such a move would enhance our governance system or weaken it.
It ought to be remembered that the formation of regional associations is something that has been with our independent country since inception. However, the focus for the formation of such bodies has always been social or developmental.Though, in a big way, the regional economic associations would have a lot of say on how the nation is governed. We all know the influence of GEMA on the first government of founding President Mzee Jomo Kenyatta. Other formations such as the KAMATUSA during the reign of the late President Daniel Arap Moi come to mind.
With the emergence of regional bodies, the rate of inequality was enhanced, take for example the economic might of a body like GEMA-it meant that their huge economic advantage over other regions-led to the burgeoning of the inequality gap. The developmental aspirations of regions are slowly being realized via devolution. There is the equalization fund that goes to counties to address the problem of systemic inequalities among various regions in the country. I don’t see what the infusion of more politics in the regions will achieve.
And this now take us to the issue of criteria for the registration of political parties. Parties should be registered on the basis, at least, of national representation. The buck, here, stops with the registrar of political parties who must ensure any party that does not have a national representation is not registered. Why should we balkanize regions based on political representation? In any case, the tested and failed system of majimbo just after independence ought to provide lessons on how to manage political representation.
Furthermore, the rate at which we register political parties is alarming. I would urge the registrar to put a moratorium on the registration of parties for a while. We have over a hundred political parties and we still want to register some more yet, when it comes to crystallization of ideology to hinge the party on, we are nowhere to be seen. Stable democracies such as those of the US and the UK have just two or three major parties. What is this obsession with numerous political parties in the African political parties meant to achieve?
At a time when Kenyans are grappling with the reality of our political situation, the last thing we want to engage in is an idea that polarizes the nation. Devolution has ensured that regions are developing even if not equally. The impending Building Bridges Initiative (BBI) bill seeks to further some of the goals of devolution. Formation of regional parties would just undermine what has been done previously to ensure cohesiveness of the republic of Kenya. Proponents of regional parties are taking the country back to the era of balkanization where each region is in unhealthy competition with one another.
Kenya is among states in the East African region that are looking forward to an East African federation in the future. As we progress as a country, our focus should be on integration and not otherwise. The idea of regionalism within a country, especially on political matters, is a recipe for chaos in future. We have been served fairly well by counties in administration of regions. What we need at that level is economic empowerment as opposed to political agitation which merely heightens grievances and breeds conflict. As nations forge common interests and come together, we must not be seen to be receding back to retrogressive political tendencies.
Ethnicity has divided the nation politically and a call for regional parties will further divide the nation. After the Jubilee party experiment that was meant to unite Kenyans, where several parties were collapsed to form one big party, the focus now should be on the BBI which, though is not a political party, will involve all the political players and will decide the trajectory of the country’s political dispensation. We owe it to ourselves as Kenyans to focus on the essence of our unity as a nation and refrain from any other distractions that may puncture the united position that we hold as Kenyans concerning the future of our governance.
Even as we debate about the place of ethnicity in our governance, we must be careful not to use the agitation for regional parties to stoke further division in the country. Everything that addresses issues to do with cohesion of our nation is already enshrined in our constitution and the BBI proposals. Anything that portrays the nation as fragmented is not desirable.
The writer is the author of Aphorisms and Poems of Light