Cablegate: 'Majimbo' - Kenya Finds an Election Issue

DE RUEHNR #4423/01 3131036
P 091036Z NOV 07





E.O.12958: N/A
SUBJECT: 'Majimbo' - Kenya Finds An Election Issue

REF: A. NAIROBI 4402; B. NAIROBI 4269; C. NAIROBI 4258;



1. (SBU) The issue of federalism - 'majimbo' - has
recently emerged as a main plank in the opposition
platform and a topic of intense public debate. Majimbo
proponents - which include both major opposition parties
- claim that devolving power to Kenya's provinces will
allow citizens more control over local development and
will decrease income inequality. Majimbo opponents - led
by President Kibaki's coalition party - counter that the
proposal is a recipe for bureaucratic inefficiency and
ethnic conflict. The idea of devolution has been around
since independence but was never implemented. Kikuyus -
President Kibaki's ethnic group and Kenya's largest '
have never seen majimbo to be in their interest.
Populist, ethnic exclusivist majimbo slogans were used in
the 1990's to spark politically-motivated ethnic
violence. Current majimbo proponents are trying to
convince voters that this time, it will be different.
Even without violence and ethnic exclusion, however,
devolution on the scale described by 'majimbo' proponents
would require a major restructuring of the Kenyan state,
with all the upheaval that might entail. Whether
opposition candidates Raila Odinga or Kalonzo Musyoka
would ultimately be willing or able to radically
decentralize Kenyan government is questionable. End

Majimbo as Federalism or Devolution

2. (SBU) 'Majimbo' is a Swahili word for 'regions' and
most describe it as federalism or devolution from the
current highly centralized political system. (Note: Kenya
does have local administrative structures, but district
and provincial commissioners are presidential appointees.
Elected local councils have limited authority to manage
services funded by local taxes and central government
grants, like President Kibaki's popular Community
Development Fund initiative which divests 7.5 percent of
the government's budget to local administrative bodies.
End Note.)

3. (SBU) Majimbo proponents say that devolution of power
will allow citizens more control over local development
and will improve income distribution. The devolution
model comes from the 2004 draft constitution (known as
the Bomas Draft). The Bomas Draft mandated elected
district governments with legislative and budgetary
authority. (Comment: If implemented in its entirety the
Bomas Draft would radically alter the manner in which
Kenyans govern themselves, creating the U.S. equivalent
of state governments where there were none and ultimately
divesting a full 65 percent of the entire national budget
to these state governments' coffers. End comment.) The
Bomas draft was shelved by the Kibaki government and
replaced by the Wako draft, named after the Attorney
General who heavily diluted the decentralization aspects
and other key components of the Bomas draft before
submitting his version for a national referendum. That
majimbo-free version was voted down in November 2005.

4. (SBU) The two most visible supporters of majimbo are
the opposition presidential candidates, Orange Democratic
Movement (ODM) leader Raila Odinga and Orange Democratic
Movement - Kenya (ODM-K) leader Kalonzo Musyoka. Odinga
claims that devolution is the only way to ensure
equitable distribution of resources to marginalized
communities. Musyoka, too, has focused on the economic
benefits of devolution, calling majimbo 'economic
federalism' and a way of allowing provinces to hold on to
more of their own resources. Speaking at a rally in
Coast Province in late October, Musyoka said that Central
Province had benefited more from federal largesse than
the Coast, even though Coast Province contributed far
more to the federal treasury. This is a common complaint
on the coast (ref A).

Majimbo as a Recipe for Ethnic Conflict

NAIROBI 00004423 002 OF 003


5. (SBU) Opponents of majimbo - most prominently
President Kibaki, running for re-election on a Party of
National Unity (PNU) ticket - claim that a 'majimbo
state' would promote tribalism, ethnic-based land
grabbing, and other tensions.

6. (SBU) One reason for this fear is the long-standing
political and economic dominance of the Kikuyu, the most
populous ethnic group in Kenya (and President Kibaki's
tribe). Unlike many of Kenya's other ethnic groups whose
population is concentrated in their ancestral districts,
the Kikuyu are spread throughout the nation. Many Kikuyu
fear that conversion to a majimbo state will mean that
they will be forced out of their land and businesses. A
District Commissioner in Nyanza Province recently told
PolOff that in his area, majimbo means "This is our
tribe's area, so everyone else get out." (Note: Nyanza
Province is predominantly Luo and home to ODM's Raila
Odinga, himself a Luo. End Note.) Some ODM campaigners
have encouraged this populist, and ethnic exclusivist
view of majimbo, to the embarrassment of some of their
more responsible comrades (ref B).

Majimbo's History: Inefficient and Divisive

7. (SBU) Kenya's first constitution, passed in 1963,
contained provisions for local governance that had been
advocated by the smaller tribes and white settlers;
however, they were never fully implemented. The Kenya
African National Union (KANU) party, which won Kenya's
first post-independence elections, considered majimboism
a threat to national unity. Scholars and politicians
also criticized the 1963 majimbo provisions as hastily
negotiated, without clear lines of responsibility, and
full of unworkable and unfair provisions.

8. (SBU) Majimbo entered the public dialogue again in the
early 1990's as opposition rose against the one-party
state under President Moi (an ethnic Kalenjin). To
maintain Kalenjin dominance in the multi-party elections
of 1992 and 1997, Kalenjin political leaders and their
allies in the Rift Valley began a violent intimidation
campaign that spread to the Coast province and left
hundreds of Kikuyu dead and approximately 250,000
displaced. "Majimbo" was their rallying cry for anti-
Kikuyu pogroms.

Is Devolution the Answer?

9. (SBU) Despite its troubled history, the idea of
devolution has strong appeal to some voters, as the
federal government has not traditionally allocated
resources to the provinces in a fair and objective
manner. While Kibaki's Constituency Development Fund
(CDF) now allocates 7.5 percent of the government's total
revenue to local constituencies for development projects,
it is not always administered effectively or honestly.
Also, a recent opinion poll funded by DfID and CIDA
indicated 52 percent of respondents were dissatisfied
with democratic practices at the local level. Seventy
five percent of respondents indicated that they had never
been involved in discussions on development issues at the
local council level.

10. (SBU) Majimbo may or may not be the solution to
problems of inadequate resource distribution. Critics
point to the possibility that the creation of local
government structures will add to bureaucracy and
corruption without necessarily improving living
standards. Others suggest that the same problems could
be addressed using other approaches, including regional
allocations for lucrative civil service jobs. Some of
the poorer, sparsely populated and more remote regions
would have great difficulty sustaining basic government
services unless they receive supplementary funding
disproportionate to their populations.

11. (SBU) Either way, Raila's campaign promise of a
majimbo-focused constitutional change within six months

NAIROBI 00004423 003 OF 003

of victory is not realistic, and only recently have his
calls for majimbo been accompanied by any detailed
proposal. Nevertheless, the government is stepping up to
the challenge presented by promising to provide more
money to the provinces. In its formal rejection of
majimbo, a PNU advertisement promises to "hand more
autonomy to communities" by "investing more through the
CDF and other devolved funds with a proven record of

12. (SBU) Majimbo is a potentially resonant campaign
issue. A Steadman poll released on October 26 showed
that only 22 percent of respondents agreed with the
government's claim that majimbo is a recipe for ethnic
divisions and tribal clashes. A slim majority (52
percent) view the term positively as a way for fair
distribution of resources and devolution of power to the
grassroots. The poll indicated that 40 percent of
respondents oppose majimbo, 38 percent of respondents
favor it, and 17 percent either did not know or did not
understand the concept. Majimbo had the highest levels
of support in Nyanza, Raila's home district, and the Rift
Valley (57 and 52 percent respectively), and the lowest
level of support in the Kikuyu-dominated Central Province
(10 percent).

13. (SBU) ODM is attempting to win more support for its
proposal by taking out two-page color ads in major
newspapers explaining the Bomas-based devolution proposal
and debunking "lies about devolution" (including that
Kenyans will have to move back to their ancestral

14. (SBU) Comment: It will be difficult to separate the
majimbo concept of fiscal and political devolution from
its anti-Kikuyu associations, particularly given the fact
that the two main presidential contenders - Kibaki and
Odinga - are old hands at tribal politics. Looking
beyond the election, however, ODM's recent attempt to
recast the majimbo debate in non-ethnic terms combined
with PNU's pledge to support a more scaled-down version
of devolution could still result in a win for Kenyan
voters - if one assumes that neither Raila Odinga or
Kalonzo Musyoka would be willing or able to completely
and immediately restructure the Kenyan state in line with
their campaign promises. As for the periodic outbursts
of ethnic chauvinism we have seen on the campaign trail
in the name of majimbo, the Ambassador and senior Emboffs
have responded publicly and repeatedly in condemnation of
such incitement and will continue to do so. End Comment.


© Scoop Media

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