Kenya: Let Us Not Forget the Real Minorities as Elections Season Begins
As Kenya enters the election period, minority nations or communities are expressing fears that due to their small population sizes they will be left out at being represented at all levels of government. Political parties should therefore adopt affirmative action policies that will include these minorities.
John Boru Sosso Halake
When Kenya promulgated the Constitution on August 4 2010 expectations were rife that the minority communities of Kenya would finally begin to get redress for historical injustices that have amongst other things limited opportunities for small or minor communities.
One of the remedies that the constitutional experts prescribed was a devolved system of government where each of the 47 counties would be entitled to at least 15 per cent of national revenues, annually. For the first time in our country’s history there would be a greater say on how resources are to be used at the grass root levels.
To illustrate this point, today if there is a village that is in need of a bridge they can simply ask their local representative, who in this case is the member of county assembly (MCA), who in turn can raise the issue at the local government. Previously when a community needed a bridge, the decision to construct or not to construct would be made in an office in Nairobi where the decision makers would most likely not know just how important such infrastructure is and hence not address these needs.
Today as we head towards the August 8 General Election we have seen a flooding of advertorials from county governments on progress made and so far. It is true that there have been some achievements but it should be noted that while there is progress, it is still too early to uncock the champagne and rest on our laurels for there are still grievances that real minorities of Kenya face i.e. equitable distribution of both human and capital resources which should be easier at the county level.
For me the real minority communities of Kenya are those nations that do not have a population size that is big enough to command representation in either the county or national government. I will use the example of the Burji, a nation that I belong to, whose people are mostly found in Marsabit County and extending to the southern Ethiopia.
Today the Burji, despite being some of the biggest economic drivers of Marsabit County through their activities in cattle farming and trade, they are neither represented in the Marsabit County Assembly nor the National Assembly which is a double tragedy.
First, the lack of representation is the classic definition of tyranny i.e. Taxation without representation at all level is a crime/tyrannical. The traders and cattle farmers pay all manner of levies to both the county and national governments and natural justice demands that their interests be represented at both levels. Secondly the lack of representation in the National Assembly contradicts the word “National”. Kenya’s Parliament should ideally represent all faces or “Nations” of Kenya hence the word “National Assembly.”
The Ogiek, El Molo, Boni, Bajuni and the Desanatch are other nations that suffer the same fate. The lack of representation often means that there is no legislator, at county or national government, who can fight for the rights of such people. It is therefore no surprise that Kenyans who belong to these nations are missing from state appointments and in the award of tenders, honours despite well-intended laws such as the 30 per cent of tenders for women, youth and people with disabilities.
It is possible to put in place structures to protect such communities and a good example can be borrowed from neighbouring Ethiopia which is similar to Kenya with a bicameral assembly but the difference being that both houses have reserved seats for the minority communities by name, making their national assembly truly national.
Kenyans should adopt a similar approach of widening representation as we all stand to benefit from a more diverse Parliament and Senate. Diversity brings about economic and security gains. Silicon Valley for instance has been developed by immigrants. Locally it was local minorities such as the Burji who supported the Kenya African National Union (KANU) in the early sixties and thwarted cessation efforts that had gained momentum at the time. The terror groups and militia that occur now and then are a symptom of a lack of inclusivity which can be cured with better representation.
As the political activities increase towards the August 8 General Elections let us not forget the minority communities of Kenya.
John Boru Sosso Halake is the former chairman for the National Council for Persons with Disabilities.
Photo: Ogiek women, MRG.