Kenya’s obsession with ethnic-based politics is a major concern to neighbouring countries, even as Nairobi opened a new chapter of national unity by launching the Building Bridges Initiative report on November 27.
Tanzania’s Foreign Affairs Minister Prof Palamagamba Kabudi did not mince his words when he addressed Kenya’s top leadership and dignitaries at the launch held at the Bomas of Kenya in Nairobi, saying that ethnicity had overshadowed the country’s impressive manpower and potential.
“We in Tanzania wonder why a country with such great talent and innovative minds has allowed itself to be ruled by the scourge of ethnicity,” he said.
Prof Kabudi lauded Kenya as the economic engine of East Africa and said that Tanzania would not interfere in the internal affairs of the country.
“But when we see you doing things that are perilous to the prosperity of the region, we will speak out loudly. Stop that mess,” he implored.
He gave the example of Tanzania which has more ethnic groups than Kenya—seven of which are found across the border in both countries—yet the does not suffer from the politics of ethnicity because of the strong nationalistic foundation laid by the founding father Mwalimu Julius Nyerere.
“Come out of your tribal cocoons and embrace the wider Kenya and wider East Africa,” he said, adding that political instability in Kenya affects the entire region, especially the landlocked countries.
Consecutive ethnic-based violence
Prof Kabudi’s address was to serve as a case study for Kenya that has suffered consecutive ethnic-based violence in every election cycle from 1992 when multiparty politics was reintroduced.
These concerns led President Uhuru Kenyatta and opposition leader Raila Odinga to forge an unexpected alliance on March 9, 2018 under the Building Bridges Initiative, (BBI) commonly known as the “handshake.”
BBI is expected to unite the country and lead it away from politics of confrontation and succession battles.
It also seeks to address nine key issues that President Kenyatta and Mr Odinga identified as the major challenges that have inflicted the country since Independence in 1963.
These are ethnic division; lack of inclusivity in politics and the economy, violence during election, national security, endemic corruption, lack of national ethos, lack of national responsibility and civic rights.
A 14-member task force collected views across the country over these issues and also sought to find out how Kenya can have a shared prosperity and enhance devolution that came into effect in 2013 following the enactment of a new constitution passed in 2010.
Key among the proposals are that the country will have a hybrid of both presidential and parliamentary systems, with a non-executive prime minister appointed by the president after being elected by parliament from the party with the majority.
The expanded executive will take care of the inclusivity and avoid the winner-takes-all formulae that breed intense ethnic competition.
The role of a prime minister will be crucial in strengthening inclusivity and accountability. It will ensure that the work of government is better overseen by parliament, while also ensuring greater inclusivity from political parties with strength in the National Assembly.
Another major proposal is that Cabinet will be appointed from a mixture of members of parliament and technocrats from outside parliament who will become ex-officio members and answer questions in parliament, but with no voting rights.