Wycliffe Muga - Welcome to the federal republic - The Star

Although at the time of writing this, the results of the referendum are not yet out, I think it is safe to assume that you will be learning in the course of the day that Kenyans voted to emphatically usher in a new constitutional dispensation.

This new constitution brings us very close to becoming a federal state. That is its key defining feature, which all the other major changes spring from.

In Kenya, we are accustomed to thinking of federal systems of government in terms of large nations like the US, Australia, Germany, Canada or closer to home, Nigeria. But there is Switzerland, a really small country, which has only seven million people. Yet it too is a federal state. And it has no less than 26 Cantons, which are the approximate equivalent of the counties that we will soon have under the new constitution.

So, for all intents and purposes, we now live in the Federal Republic of Kenya. But what does this really mean?

Well, for now let me focus on the good news, and say that we should be grateful that our new devolved administrative units are based on the old districts and not the provinces.

If the counties had been fewer and larger, it would have had the effect of legitimising and entrenching the "regional power brokers" or "tribal chiefs" who have perfected the art of uniting their tribesmen under the banner of resisting "marginalisation", and then proceeding to use the voting power of these regional blocks to serve their personal agenda.

This theatrical "resistance" to marginalisation would be harmless enough were it not for the fact that it usually involves the victimisation and stigmatisation of the minority "non-indigenous" communities in those areas.

So we should be glad to see an end to it.

The other good news is that there will be many more opportunities for leadership for the civic-minded 'among us.

In the past the only path to a meaningful role in national politics was through seeking a parliamentary seat, usually with the secret hope of finding your way to the Cabinet. But now there are all those governorships and deputy governorships, and county speaker, and senate speaker, and senators, and so on.

Out of all these, the one which will be most deeply coveted will be the governorships. As far as I can understand it, the new governors will be much like the Kenyatta-era provincial commissioners, only they will be popularly elected, and they will be more.

For the sake of younger readers, I should explain that our founding president borrowed heavily from the colonial governors, in deciding how to rule Kenya. And he governed most visibly through the provincial administration which had barely changed from the colonial administrative structure he inherited.

And in those days the PCs were so often in the news, and they were such dominant public figures that they were as well known as ministers and even more powerful. But the new governors will have something that even those powerful PCs of old did not have: a constitutionally-mandated allocation from the national budget. They will therefore be the immediate means of salvation for their people, and will - to a large extent - determine whether their part of the country will prosper or stagnate.

Any really influential politician would obviously choose to be a governor, rather than one of almost 300 legislators, trying to get a hearing on the floor of Parliament.

Now in those countries with existing federal structures of government, it is the norm that those who wish to rise to higher office must first prove themselves in the successful management of public affairs at the regional level.

And although the most recent US presidential election featured two senators (Obama and McCain) it is usually former governors who end up president in that country George W Bush (former Governor of Texas); Bill Clinton (Arkansas); Ronald Reagan (California) and Jimmy Carter (Georgia).

So a few years from now, we may well have a situation where we can judge what a presidential candidate can do for the country, based on a proven track record of effective governance at the county level.

And that would certainly be a step forward. In the present situation, we tend to vote for the most effective campaigner, rather than the leader with the best track record.

The writer comments on topical issues.

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