Friday, December 21, 2007

Tunes on majimbo have changed

When central Kenya MPs supported majimbo 13 months to the 2002 General Election, opposition legislators from the region held a marathon meeting that stretched up to 2am and unanimously agreed to back the system. The move was received with shock and scepticism, considering that the lawmakers from the region had been opposed to majimbo.

More than 30 politicians attended the secret meeting held on November 15, 2001 at La Belle Inn in Naivasha. Those in attendance included ministers, Mr Njenga Karume, who chaired the session, Ms Martha Karua, Mr Kiraitu Murungi, Mr David Mwiraria, Mr Njeru Ndwiga, Mr John Michuki, Mr Mwangi Kiunjuri, Mrs Beth Mugo and MPs, Dr Chris Murungaru, Mr Norman Nyagah, Mr David Mwenje, and Mr Matere Keriri, who are curiously today’s harshest critics of majimbo. Many, including former Law Society of Kenya chairman Gibson Kamau Kuria, hailed the MPs’ decision. "It is a prudent idea, however, it should be adopted after addressing the problems caused by tribal clashes of 1992 and 1997," he was quoted saying.

But in a recent newspaper article, the lawyer who now churns out anti-majimbo opinions writes: "Those advocating for majimboism are behaving like the proverbial ostrich and refusing to see the danger it poses. Majimboism has in the past caused much loss of human life and removal of people from their land and businesses."

"Indeed few people are honest about their stand on majimbo and if only the proponents and opponents of the debate were to listen to one another, they would realise that they are actually pulling in the same direction," says Lumumba, an aspirant for Nairobi’s Kamkunji parliamentary seat.

The Central Kenya legislators now maintain that majimbo "in whatever form" is a dangerous system of governance that was found unworkable and thereby rejected way back in the 1960s.

The shifting of goal posts notwithstanding, the two politicians who seem consistent on the majimbo subject are presidential candidates Mwai Kibaki and Raila Odinga. Although nearly half of the legislators who attended the Naivasha meeting were from his Democratic Party, Kibaki, then the Leader of the Official Opposition, skipped the talks. Instead, DP patron and Kiambaa MP, Karume chaired the meeting. Kieni’s Murungaru was secretary.

Reached for comment, Kibaki was non-committal on the subject, saying only that majimbo needed to be properly defined before its viability as an alternative to the unitary system is debated. But his observation that some politicians had misled Kenyans to believe that majimbo would be a panacea for all their economic problems, betrayed his stand on the subject.

Following the Naivasha meeting, DP legislators, Murungaru and Kiunjuri vowed to kick off campaigns for a federal system of government, as it would benefit people in Central Province and productive areas of the Rift Valley. Then, the Central Kenya politicians were persuaded by a host of factors in support for majimbo, key among them that as an economically rich region, the arrangement would enable them create and nurture a super jimbo.

"We contribute 70 per cent of the national income and people like Nassir (late Cabinet minister and one of the strongest majimbo proponents at the time) should know that going majimbo does not threaten us in any way,’’ Kiunjuri told a local daily. However, the MPs set one condition for majimbo — that the provincial boundaries are reworked and people allowed to register in the jimbo (federal state) of their choice.

As in 2001, "majimbo" debate has become a hot cake ahead of next week’s polls. Positions have changed but the arguments for and against remain the same.

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