This attempt to trivialize such a key issue is a worrying and warning sign of things to come, especially as these sentiments were echoed by none other than the outgoing president Mwai Kibaki himself when he was in Naivasha:
“What we are witnessing is pure nonsense with those obsessed with power in the newly created structures in the constitution”.
Kibaki Reads Riot Act to GovernorsBy VICTOR RABALLA and KIRERA MWITIWednesday, 3 April, 2013
President Kibaki yesterday waded into the stand-off between newly elected governors and government- appointed county commissioners with a stern warning to the former to stop frustrating officers posted from the Central Government. But there was High Noon drama as the governors and their deputies walked out of the induction training in Nairobi to protest against alleged government interference in their work.
The rebellious governors and their deputies called for the removal of County Commissioners and other officers posted to their respective counties on an interim basis, claiming it all amounted to sabotage by the central government. But the President in his address told them-governors to accommodate county commissioners in the new devolved structure, maintaining that their appointment was within the law.
And as he made his point, President Kibaki reminded governors that Kenya remains a unitary state despite the devolution of political power and resources.
“The expectations of Kenyans on county governments are very high and you will be required to ensure effective service delivery, promote economic growth, and maintain high levels of accountability.
“However, you should foster national unity by recognising our diversity as intended by the Constitution. It is my hope that devolution will lead to a united and prosperous Kenya,” he said.
“Some people have got it wrong in their heads that what they are looking for is not in the Constitution of Kenya,” said Kibaki, as he addressed governors, their deputies and county speakers.
“We should keep in mind that despite the devolution of power and resources, Kenya remains a single unitary State and is the Constitution,” he added.
The comments that were off the cuff , repeating the words unitary state over 10 times as he meant to insist that devolution was only meant to help in the sharing of the national resources rather than creating independent regions. And moments after the President left the venue of the meeting, the governors and their deputies staged a walkout from the meeting venue derailing the meeting.
This came as it emerged that some officers sent to the county offices to facilitate devolution on an interim basis would wield more powers than the governors. The governors and their deputies said they were not ready to play second fiddle, stressing that they were elected to serve as the chief executives of their respective counties and demanded a meeting with all chairpersons of the various independent commissions to have a proper briefing on their mandates.
The Governor of Machakos, Dr. Alfred Mutua, who as Government Spokesman was one of the most visible and staunchest defenders of the Kibaki regime over the last ten years was reported as saying:President Kibaki said the Constitution had never been repealed to introduce any changes on the role of the provincial administration, indirectly defending his appointees as county commissioners, formerly provincial commissioners…. “You have been elected because of the special qualities that the people saw in you. Please let not the trappings of power overwhelm you and lose sight of that,” he said adding there is limited time to serve the people. “We have enacted the necessary legislation and provided the initial resources you require to begin your work,” he said during the induction meeting at the Great Rift Valley Lodge in Naivasha.
Addressing the media in Naivasha, Machakos Governor Alfred Mutua said there were “pertinent issues” they wanted addressed before the meeting proceeded. He said after being sworn in last week, they were ready to embark on their jobs but government had not disbursed money to counties.
“The government froze accounts of municipalities and other council accounts yet they have not sent the money to us”. He said the county interim officials were supposed to work until the governors were sworn in but they were still carrying out their duties a week later. “We are been shortchanged by having these officers here in the counties while their duties are similar to what we are mandated to do,” said Dr. Mutua. Mutua, who was speaking on behalf of his colleagues, warned they would not work with the officers deployed from the central government if their mandate is not be explained to them.On the issue of flags, Mutua said governors had resolved to fly the Kenyan flag, adding like Cabinet ministers and ambassadors, they had the mandate to fly the flag.
“We noted that the Treasury is acting outside the law, it is acting with impunity, it is disregarding what Parliament passed in December and has gone ahead to prepare budgets for the counties. They have gone ahead to continue to belittle these county governments.”
But it was Bomet County Governor Isaac Ruto who fired the shot that broke up the meeting: “The Governors have been receiving strange warnings and threats from some Permanent Secretaries. The Executive must not chair this meeting. Let them come down and join us down here.”Ruto argued the President’s speech needed clarification. “The truth is that we have 48 governments in this country. There is one central government and 47 County governments,” Ruto went on.Some of the Governors accused senior operatives from the Office of the President of seeking to water down their roles. “There have been condescending warnings from the State. What I know is that no government is more superior to the other and I don’t know why we have been receiving these warnings,” said Ruto.Ruto then turned the heat on Prof Mutahi: “I can see PS Karega there on stage, he seems to be part of these warnings.” The PS did not react.
By LABAN WANAMBISI and GEORGE MUNYORI | April 3, 2013NAIROBI, Kenya, Apr 3 – Just a day after governors accused the central government of frustrating county governments, they have now opposed the retention of county commissioners across the country.
Led by Kwale governor Salim Mvurya, the governors on Wednesday said their roles and those of county commissioners would bring conflict in the county governments.The rejection of the county governors came even after President Mwai Kibaki asked them to dedicate their efforts in serving Kenyans and stop wrangling over what he termed as ‘needless power.’
Since governors were elected, there have been struggles between them and county commissioners arising from their roles.
“In the recent past we have seen a number of actions contrary to the Constitution. There is the renaming of provincial commissioners to county commissioners; where does this action draw legitimacy?” Mvurya queried.
However, Local Government Permanent Secretary Karega Mutahi differed with the governors saying that the county commissioners are legally in office.
Mutahi said the governors should cooperate with the county commissioners whom he said represent the central government at the county level.
“There is clear division of duties and none will interfere with the other’s work. County commissioners solely work for the central government and cannot be directed by governors and neither can they give orders to governors. Whoever is not clear on that should read the Constitution,” explained the PS.
Outgoing Prime Minister Raila Odinga has spoken against what he termed as attempts by the government to interfere with the new devolution system.Raila was speaking during a meeting with Nairobi County Assembly members held today at the Crown Plaza Hotel in Nairobi.
He alleged that some forces in government want county commissioners and other members of the provincial administration to act as legitimate authorities in the counties.He said that the situation is inconsistent with provisions of the constitution. The outgoing PM stated that attempts to make governors either take orders from county commissioners or play subsidiary roles to “agents of an outdated order” were unacceptable.
He said that he had warned about this development immediately the office of the President embarked on appointing county commissioners adding the transitional clause is very clear that the provincial administration would be restructured to fit in the new constitution.
“Let us get this clear. It is the system known as the provincial administration which was to be restructured to fit in to the new constitution, not the other way round,” he said.
Raila said that Cord as a coalition stood strongly for the full and undiluted devolution of power and resources to the counties adding Kenyans must enjoy what they voted for in the new constitution promulgated on August 27, 2010.
The PM added that Kenyans must be allowed to look up to and hold responsible only people they elected in the last polls to take care of their counties.
“That is why I want to call on all governors and county assembly members, regardless of party to hold their ground, stand firm and demand to be given the full space and mandate to implement the devolution agenda of their voters,” he said,
He said that without the full implementation of the devolution agenda, the country will return to the old centralization which he blamed for inequities in the country.
Raila further stated that he did not need to be pitied after his election loss, saying the many messages of sympathy that he was receiving were misplaced and unnecessary stating that he was still committed to the ideals of democracy for which he will continue championing.
The PM also told county assembly members that they had a responsibility and duty to implement the promises CORD made during the campaigns as written in the coalition’s manifesto.
“We should keep in mind that despite the devolution of power and resources, Kenya remains a single unitary State.”
IMF Hand Behind Devolution Battle
Ministry of Finance (Treasury) through Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Finance Uhuru Kenyatta and Central Bank of Kenya Governor Prof Njuguna Ndung’u conspired with International Monetary Fund( IMF) to block devolution and dispersal of power as provided in the Constitution, International Center for Policy and Conflict can authoritative reveal.
According to the documents posted in the IMF website the International Monetary Fund (IMF) has invested heavily in promoting, ever since the referendum period, creation of Integrated Public Finance Management (PFM) law as well as a Single Treasury Account.The two are contained in the IMF Loan Agreement with the Government of Kenya as structural conditionalities that attract penalties if violated without a formal waiver from the IMF Board. Treasury upheld these two IMF conditions because they favour it (Treasury).
IMF crude political interference on the implementation of the Constitution is severely detrimental to the devolution process.
The Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Local Government have differed sharply on how to regulate the management of public resources. The Ministry of Finance (The Treasury), in accordance with IMF deal has fronted an Integrated Bill covering the two levels of government - the National and the County.
The Ministry of Local Government has put forward two related Bills, one specific to the financial management of the county government and the other an Intergovernmental Fiscal Relations Bill - which aims to create mechanisms for ensuring coherence between the two levels of government in relation to the management of public finance.
Local Government ministry opposes the single Integrated PFM Bill approach and argues strongly for a separate Bill to strengthen the devolution process and fears that the Integrated PFM approach is a stealthy way of re-centralising and controlling power.
The Constitution of Kenya creates two levels of government which are independent of each other but who should 'collaborate and cooperate' for the public good.
On September 2010, hardly a month after promulgation of the New Constitution, IMF mission visited Nairobi to open preliminary negotiations towards extending a credit facility to Kenya. It is this mission that first broached the idea of a single Public Finance Management (PFM) Law.
The mission came back on November 2010 to prepare the Government of Kenya to present a loan request to the IMF Board. The Letter of Intent was drafted by this mission, and signed by the Minister for Finance and the Governor of the Central Bank to the IMF Executive Director committing the Government of Kenya to present a single PFM Bill to Parliament( see attached Kenya: Letter of Intent and Technical Memorandum of Understanding dated June 14, 2011). Further the mission offered a technical assistance to the Ministry of Finance to enable it (Ministry) prepares the Bill.
In January 2011, two parallel missions came back to Nairobi. One had a clear mission to finalise the loan deal and the other a technical team to appraise and recommend a framework for Public Finance Management. The final letter of intent signed by the Minister for Finance and the Central Bank Governor and addressed to the then Managing Director of the IMF undertook, as part of their core conditions to deliver an Integrated PFM to Parliament by end of August 2011 and to adopt a single Treasury account. These conditions will be reviewed in this September as part of other conditionalities that the Government of Kenya committed itself to.
The Constitution clearly represent the sovereign will of the people (Article 1) and it is being exercised at 2 levels of government-National and County (Article 1 (4) and that the government at these 2 levels are "distinct and inter-dependent and shall conduct their mutual relations on the basis of consultation and cooperation"(Article 6(2)).
The mindset behind the Integrated PFM law is one that subjugates the County to the National. This is plainly unacceptable as it fundamentally abrogates the letter and spirit of the Constitution and the entire philosophy behind devolution principle, which introduces radical political, fiscal and administrative changes.
The mission that provided technical assistance for the development of the Integrated PFM Bill submitted its report in March entitled 'Kenya: Developing an Integrated Legal Framework for Public Financial Management'. The mission met a range of actors except the Devolution Taskforce. Subsequently the IMF provided technical assistance for a drafting group to transform the mission report into a Bill. The draft Bill that Treasury presented to the Commission on the Implementation of the Constitution (CIC) was the product of these processes.
The mission key recommendations to be reflected in an integrated PFM law include:
- An integrated budget calendar
- legal framework of the County Government( referred as sub-national government)
- Extensive and detailed recommendations on range of issues and mission interpretations of the powers given to the Treasury by the Constitution.This mission report leaves no doubt about the intention of the mission, and of the IMF. It flatly want to ensure that the powers of the Treasury are as enhanced as possible; that the flexibilities of the county government are as constrained as possible when it comes to the management of public finance and that the management of public finance is as centralised as is possible.
The mission made very selective choice of principles of public finance outlined in the Constitution, emphasising and amplifying those that are in consonance with the IMF's mission and keeping mute or only mentioning in passing those principles they don't want.The mission reduced the role of Local Government as mere political and administrative aspects of devolution; with the devolution taskforce effectively boxed and outwitted on in financial devolution.
It further goes on to seek curtailing powers given by the Constitution to other parts of government. Parliament's role in budget making is reduced to 'regulating changes that Parliament can make to national budget'. For the Counties it recommends 'defining budget documents to be presented to the County assemblies, who should present, and changes that County Assemblies can make'. It also recommends that a County Single Account should be 'prescribed by Treasury' (national government).
On borrowing it recommends that Treasury should 'impose a golden rule on borrowing on the County' and that authority to 'grant guarantees on County borrowing should vested in the Treasury'. It proposes that Treasury should have oversight power over all accounting, auditing and procurement functions 'within every county treasury'. They prefer that all accounting and auditing staff be employed by the Treasury.
They recommend that Treasury (national government) be vested with the power to 'collect, consolidate, disperse and publish county level financial and non-financial performance information'... It recommends that the PFM Act 'elaborate on the significant powers given to the Treasury to oversee the PFM system’; among many other baffling recommendations.
This raises serious concerns on the government will to fully implement and uphold the Constitution. It further worries on the role of many technical assistance missions provided by foreign governments to assist in the drafting pieces of legislation required to bring into effect certain provisions of the Constitution.
5.0. Tone Setting: “The Imperative for Devolution as Envisaged by Kenyans and Captured in the Bomas Draft”-Presentation by Abu-Bakr Zein, former CKRC Commissioner;
This was an electrifying intervention that jolted panelists and participants alike to the sobering implications of the entire constitutional review process right from independence up to the year 2011 when Kenyans are grappling with the challenges of implementing the constitution passed in the August 4, 2010 referendum and officially promulgated as the supreme law of the land three weeks later.
Before commencing on his presentation Abubakar Zein sought to clarify an earlier confusion as to his official status at the CKRC. He said that he was NOT on the Devolution Committee with the late Dr. Odhiambo Mbai. Rather he was the Rapporteur to the Committee on Legislation, which worked closely with the Devolution Committee.
His overarching argument was that the challenge with coming up with a new democratic constitution in this country was largely and inseparably linked to the fact that Kenyans had never DECONSTRUCTED the Colonial State.
He explained that during the colonial period, there were THREE distinct geographic and political enclaves and entities in what is now Kenya-Kenya Colony; Kenya Protectorate and the Northern Frontier District that were almost entirely hermetically cordoned off from each other.
Zein Abubakar stated that the first post-colonial regime led by Mzee Jomo Kenyatta, inherited and perpetuated these cleavages, even though on paper, the new Kenya was supposed to be an all inclusive unitary state guaranteeing minority and majority communities all over the republic equal rights and equality of opportunity. He reminded his audience that the FIRST referendum in independent Kenya was way back in 1962 when the inhabitants of the then N. F. D. voted to secede from Kenya and joining neighbouring Somalia. This was largely driven by feelings of marginalization, regional underdevelopment and a sense of state oppression by the northern Kenyan peoples. He spoke of irredentist sentiments expressed by residents of Mwambao and the former Coastal Strip who had argued that they were not part of Kenya and had more affinity with people who used to pledge fealty to the Sultan of Zanzibar.
He invited his listeners to look for parallels between northern Kenya and southern Sudan. Imagine, he implored, if you replace northern Kenya with southern Sudan-in terms of the grievances, issues and concerns of people from the two regions. Further he asked, what would happen if you replace Khartoum with Nairobi? His point being that the relationship between the central government in Nairobi and the marginalized people of northern Kenya was analogous to circumstances which drove the conflict in Africa’s formerly largest state and ultimately led to the creation of the continent’s newest state, South Sudan.
Zein spoke of the philosophy, architecture and design as he traced the history of the devolution process in the course of the constitutional review process. In the original CKRC draft, five levels of government; the Bomas draft had three while the current constitution has two levels of devolved government.
He posed the challenge of how to deconstruct the colonial state, which he maintained, remains intact. He said the main feature of the colonial state was the idea of centralized power, which was underpinned by what he referred to as the WASP Male mentality (White Anglo Saxon Protestant Male) which originally locked anyone who was not white, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant and Male) which essentially meant anyone who was did not fall within those confines was consigned to marginalization. In post-colonial Kenya it further marginalized people from the north, Muslim and other minorities who were far away from the centre of power.
It created a state characterized by centre/periphery tensions within the same country and rotated around the issue who controlled the purse strings. Finances were withheld from regions and areas with an earlier history of marginalization like the Coast, northern Kenya and certain rural and minority communities.
Devolution, Zein posited, is about equity and equality of opportunity.
In translating the concept of devolution to constitutional legislation, we had to be faithful to the philosophy, architecture and design.
The presenter then advanced three central points:
Kenyans have reached “the end of experimentation” in terms of reconfiguring the state and social relations in the country. When we were fighting the colonialists, the clarion call was “Uhuru!” implying that when Kenyans achieved self-rule our problems would go away. When the status quo stubbornly prevailed during the Kenyatta regime, Kenyans looked forward to a post-Mzee dispensation. Unfortunately nothing changed. During the second KANU administration, activists and reformers demanded that “Moi must go!” After the NARC government came to power in 2002 ending 39 years of KANU rule, there were those demanding “regime change”. With the promulgation of the constitution in August 2010, there must be fundamental and profound transformation which radically alters the status of marginalized communities and regions in Kenya.
The Kenyan people will no longer accept oppression and exclusion. This is what is driving people at the Coast under the ambit of the “Mombasa Republican Council” who insist that “Pwani” is NOT Kenya and the Kuria warn of dire consequences if their particular issues and concerns are not addressed.
There is a need to deconstruct and reconstruct certain myths.
In the first place there is no “central government”. There is no “unitary state”. We must move away from the “single party” and “single government” mindsets-which to Zein, were two faces of the same coin.
Kenyans faced the challenge of visioning the future without the encumbrances of the past. We must transcend the thinking encapsulated in the 1965 Sessional Paper No.10: African Socialism and its application to planning and development of Kenya- quipping that there was nothing “African” or “Socialist” about it. He said that one track minded people stifled creativity and urged Kenyans to move away from their comfort zones.
Speaking of the philosophy driving devolution, Zein stressed that in conceptualization we must embrace the view there would be shared institutions and jurisdictions between the two levels of government- the national and the counties. He underlined that an institution like the Commission on Revenue Allocation was NOT an adjunct, agent or branch of the national government but rather an autonomous, “neutral” body that served both the counties and the national government.
Zein Abubakar ended by emphasizing that it was important to manage the transition to the new constitutional dispensation with its provisions for devolution with care and foresight.
8.0. County Governments: Financial Management Bill: Dr. Julius Malombe
As a member of the same Task Force on Devolution, Dr. Malombe explained that he did not want to repeat what his Chair had explained. He just wanted to fill the gaps. The thrust of his presentation was geared towards explaining why his team developed two bills on county government and inter-government affairs. He went to highlight the essence of the two bills. He went into some detail in expressing the concerns of the Task Force regarding the attitude of Treasury. He sought to disabuse his audience of any misconceptions that his team did not have any expertise in public finance and drafting of legislation and emphasized that the constitution did not envision the national government as being “superior” to the county governments in terms of taking the lead in matters of devolution and public finance. He saw their role as organic, complementary and inter-related and suggested that the country would be better served if the Ministry of Finance collaborated with the Task Force in fine tuning and drafting a public finance which took a holistic view towards the implementation of the devolution provisions in the constitution.
9.0. Reaction from the Ministry of Finance: Albert Mwenda
Mr. Mwenda stood in for the Permanent Secretary from the ministry Joseph Kenya who could not make it to the Round Table because of other commitments. He spent the bulk of his time defending his ministry and debunking what he felt were misconceptions and misrepresentations in the forgoing couple of presentations by Dr. Kangu and Dr. Malombe. He was at pains to point out that his ministry did not see itself as superior or the sole arbiter when it came to matters of public finance. He gave examples from other countries to augment his views about the best way to approach public finance saying at several points in his intervention that there were circumstances which warranted the national government to step in where there were anomalies and abuses by the “sub-national” governments.
10.0. Interventions from the Floor: Amina Ahmed, Commissioner, Commission on Revenue Allocation
Commissioner Amina Ahmed took the podium following the polite but tense exchanges between the representatives of the Task Force on Devolution on the one hand and the Ministry of Finance on the other.
She saw the Commission on Revenue Allocation as an independent, autonomous body serving both levels of government-national and county. She was adamant in demanding that Treasury should respect every institution. She underscored her belief that the Commission on Revenue Allocation is “the guardian of the counties”.
One the one hand, there are those, guided by the spirit of the constitution, who are determined to implement those provisions in our supreme document which want to give life to what millions of Kenyans have been fighting for over the last twenty years or so in terms of bringing government and resources closer to the people who in turn expect to participate in all aspects of governance, transparency, accountability, resource allocation and sustainable development strategies and initiatives.
On the other hand, there are those who were called “Watermelons” in the 2010 Referendum who were “green” outside, meaning they played lip service to the spirit of the new constitution while being in reality “red” inside, in other words, fighting tooth and nail to retain the status quo and all its undemocratic, selfish tenets and provisions.
How is this Devolution Drama (hopefully there is no video yet, to echo the “kama ndrama kama vindio” who has been immortalized on You Tube), how is this transition to a new Kenyan reality in terms of the provisions in the Constitution going to play itself out?
My crystal ball detects INTERNAL CONTRADICTIONS within the Jubilee Alliance pitting proponents and opponents of devolution with one wing allied to President Elect Uhuru Kenyatta and his Kibaki era Harambee Avenue mandarins, apparatchiks and securocrats and the other allied to William Ruto, who despite commanding the Red Brigade which opposed the constitution, is nevertheless the head of the URP social base which has historically tended to strive for devolution, from its earlier incarnation as “Majimboism” during the KADU salad days of retired dictator Daniel arap Moi to its 2007 rendition as ODM’s Ugatuzi Platform which the former Rift Valley voted for to a man and woman. If William Ruto does not watch his steps, he may soon find his leadership challenged within URP by his namesake Isaac Ruto (who, by the way, is a former “activist” having once served briefly as none other than the Secretary General of SONU during the Titus Adungosi/Mwandawiro Mghanga regime in 1982).
How the Uhuru led regime handles the devolution agenda WITHIN ITS FIRST 100 DAYS in power will be a litmus test indicating how long it will remain in power, especially given the persistent and widespread feelings across the country that TNA essentially STOLE the elections with the connivance of the IEBC and the Supreme Court.
Here is how one writer summarized his impact on the topic:
The Marxist approach to the national question, mainly developed by Lenin, seems to me the best available. It grasps the revolutionary dynamic of nationalist movements – their capacity to destabilise even the greatest imperialist powers. The Indian and Irish struggles undermined British imperialism; the Vietnamese epic imposed a humiliating defeat on the greatest of all imperialist powers, from which in many ways the US ruling class has yet politically to recover; nationalist rebellions in the Caucasus and the Baltic played a crucial part in the disintegration of the Soviet Union in the late 1980s. At the same time, Marxism highlights the limits of nationalism: the trajectory of even the most heroic nationalist movement is to carve out its own space within the capitalist world system and therefore ultimately to make its peace with that system.
This analysis allows us to avoid the two characteristic errors committed by the left towards nationalism. One is to demonise it; the other is to capitulate to it. The former reaction has been very common since the collapse of the Stalinist states at the end of the 1980s. Many left intellectuals have reacted to the fall of regimes in which they often harboured illusions by portraying a world succumbing to a wave of barbaric and irrational nationalisms. The wars in the former Yugoslavia and on the peripheries of the old Soviet Union encouraged this attitude. What this view missed out was the essential ambiguity of nationalism. The warring Serbian and Croatian nationalisms that ripped Yugoslavia apart in the early 1990s were indeed based on chauvinist mythologies justifying bestial atrocities. But this did not alter the fact that different nationalisms served as the umbrella under which tens of millions of people in the Baltic and Caucasus rose up against an oppressive Stalinist regime in the late 1980s.
The ambiguity of nationalism reflects its class nature. The same ideology that legitimises a struggle against oppression can also be used by a new capitalist class to justify its consolidation of state power by seizing territory from and denying elementary rights to those now stigmatised as aliens. This is why every nationalist movement has to be judged concretely, on the basis of the particular political effects that its actions have in a specific context. When the Vietnamese liberation armed forces rolled up the American client army during their march on Saigon in the spring of 1975 they were completing a great struggle for national liberation. When they invaded Cambodia nearly four years later they were asserting the claim of the Vietnamese state to dominate Indochina by its military might.
The opposite error to demonising nationalism is closely related. It consists in capitulating to a particular nationalism by depicting it as inherently progressive. This was common on the Western left in the 1960s and 1970s, when Third World national liberation movements were celebrated as being in the vanguard of socialism. Thus many student radicals went beyond solidarity with the Vietnamese struggle against US imperialism to uncritical support for the ruling Vietnamese Communist Party. But when Vietnam went to war with two other “socialist” countries, Cambodia and China, in 1978-79 the result was enormous confusion and disillusionment. Exactly the same error is made – of giving what Lenin called “communist coloration” to bourgeois nationalist movements – but with far less excuse by those socialists who today regard the Scottish and Welsh nationalist parties as leading a struggle against imperialism.
The distinctive feature of the Marxist approach to the national question, as elaborated chiefly by Lenin, is that it is concerned primarily with the specific political impact of a given nationalist movement. Michael Löwy puts it very well:
"From the methodological point of view, Lenin’s principal superiority over his contemporaries was his capacity to “put politics in command”, that is, his obstinate, inflexible, constant, and unflinching tendency to grasp the political aspect of every problem and every contradiction ... On the national question, while most other Marxist writers saw only the economic, cultural or “psychological” dimension of the problem, Lenin stated clearly that the question of self determination “belongs wholly and exclusively to the sphere of political democracy”, that is, to the realm of the right of political secession and the establishment of an independent nation state... His aim was democracy and the international unity of the proletariat, which both require the recognition of the right of nations to self determination. What is more, precisely because it concentrates on the political aspect, his theory of self determination makes absolutely no concession to nationalism."
Thus from a Marxist point of view the significance of a national struggle lies in the social conflicts it expresses and, in particular, the political consequences it has. Where the latter include the weakening of imperialism and strengthening of the international unity of the working class, socialists should support its struggle; where they do not, socialists should not support it. Of course, this is a general approach which must be applied with care to particular circumstances – for example, to the different national questions within the borders of the United Kingdom, in the North of Ireland, Scotland, and Wales: other essays in this collection address the specific question of Scottish nationalism. But it should now be clear that the national question is not the rock on which Marxism founders. On the contrary, the Marxist tradition can both explain the nature of national conflicts and offer a strategy for dealing with them.
The following excerpt is taken from his pamphlet, Marxism and the National Question, written in Vienna, Austria, January 1913:
What is a nation?A nation is primarily a community, a definite community of people.This community is not racial, nor is it tribal. The modern Italian nation was formed from Romans, Teutons, Etruscans, Greeks, Arabs, and so forth. The French nation was formed from Gauls, Romans, Britons, Teutons, and so on. The same must be said of the British, the Germans and others, who were formed into nations from people of diverse races and tribes.
Thus, a nation is not a racial or tribal, but a historically constituted community of people.
On the other hand, it is unquestionable that the great empires of Cyrus and Alexander could not be called nations, although they came to be constituted historically and were formed out of different tribes and races. They were not nations, but casual and loosely-connected conglomerations of groups, which fell apart or joined together according to the victories or defeats of this or that conqueror.
Thus, a nation is not a casual or ephemeral conglomeration, but a stable community of people.
But not every stable community constitutes a nation. Austria and Russia are also stable communities, but nobody calls them nations. What distinguishes a national community from a state community? The fact, among others, that a national community is inconceivable without a common language, while a state need not have a common language. The Czech nation in Austria and the Polish in Russia would be impossible if each did not have a common language, whereas the integrity of Russia and Austria is not affected by the fact that there are a number of different languages within their borders. We are referring, of course, to the spoken languages of the people and not to the official governmental languages.
Thus, a common language is one of the characteristic features of a nation.
This, of course, does not mean that different nations always and everywhere speak different languages, or that all who speak one language necessarily constitute one nation. A common language for every nation, but not necessarily different languages for different nations! There is no nation which at one and the same time speaks several languages, but this does not mean that there cannot be two nations speaking the same language! Englishmen and Americans speak one language, but they do not constitute one nation. The same is true of the Norwegians and the Danes, the English and the Irish.
But why, for instance, do the English and the Americans not constitute one nation in spite of their common language?
Firstly, because they do not live together, but inhabit different territories. A nation is formed only as a result of lengthy and systematic intercourse, as a result of people living together generation after generation.
But people cannot live together, for lengthy periods unless they have a common territory. Englishmen and Americans originally inhabited the same territory, England, and constituted one nation. Later, one section of the English emigrated from England to a new territory, America, and there, in the new territory, in the course of time, came to form the new American nation. Difference of. territory led to the formation of different nations.
Thus, a common territory is one of the characteristic features of a nation.
But this is not all. Common territory does not by itself create a nation. This requires, in addition, an internal economic bond to weld the various parts of the nation into a single whole. There is no such bond between England and America, and so they constitute two different nations. But the Americans themselves would not deserve to be called a nation were not the different parts of America bound together into an economic whole, as a result of division of labour between them, the development of means of communication, and so forth.
Take the Georgians, for instance. The Georgians before the Reform inhabited a common territory and spoke one language. Nevertheless, they did not, strictly speaking, constitute one nation, for, being split up into a number of disconnected principalities, they could not share a common economic life; for centuries they waged war against each other and pillaged each other, each inciting the Persians and Turks against the other. The ephemeral and casual union of the principalities which some successful king sometimes managed to bring about embraced at best a superficial administrative sphere, and rapidly disintegrated owing to the caprices of the princes and the indifference of the peasants. Nor could it be otherwise in economically disunited Georgia ... Georgia came on the scene as a nation only in the latter half of the nineteenth century, when the fall of serfdom and the growth of the economic life of the country, the development of means of communication and the rise of capitalism, introduced division of labour between the various districts of Georgia, completely shattered the economic isolation of the principalities and bound them together into a single whole.
The same must be said of the other nations which have passed through the stage of feudalism and have developed capitalism.
Thus, a common economic life, economic cohesion, is one of the characteristic features of a nation.
But even this is not all. Apart from the foregoing, one must take into consideration the specific spiritual complexion of the people constituting a nation. Nations differ not only in their conditions of life, but also in spiritual complexion, which manifests itself in peculiarities of national culture. If England, America and Ireland, which speak one language, nevertheless constitute three distinct nations, it is in no small measure due to the peculiar psychological make-up which they developed from generation to generation as a result of dissimilar conditions of existence.
Of course, by itself, psychological make-up or, as it is otherwise called, "national character," is something intangible for the observer, but in so far as it manifests itself in a distinctive culture common to the nation it is something tangible and cannot be ignored.
Needless to say, "national character" is not a thing that is fixed once and for all, but is modified by changes in the conditions of life; but since it exists at every given moment, it leaves its impress on the physiognomy of the nation.
Thus, a common psychological make-up, which manifests itself in a common culture, is one of the characteristic features of a nation.
We have now exhausted the characteristic features of a nation.
A nation is a historically constituted, stable community of people, formed on the basis of a common language, territory, economic life, and psychological make-up manifested in a common culture.
It goes without saying that a nation, like every historical phenomenon, is subject to the law of change, has its history, its beginning and end.
It must be emphasized that none of the above characteristics taken separately is sufficient to define a nation. More than that, it is sufficient for a single one of these characteristics to be lacking and the nation ceases to be a nation.
It is possible to conceive of people possessing a common "national character" who, nevertheless, cannot be said to constitute a single nation if they are economically disunited, inhabit different territories, speak different languages, and so forth. Such, for instance, are the Russian, Galician, American, Georgian and Caucasian Highland Jews, who, in our opinion, do not constitute a single nation.
It is possible to conceive of people with a common territory and economic life who nevertheless would not constitute a single nation because they have no common language and no common "national character." Such, for instance, are the Germans and Letts in the Baltic region.
It is only when all these characteristics are present together that we have a nation.
Lenin came from dominant ethnic group in his country Russia and was therefore extremely concerned about oppression suffered by small ethnic groups at the hands of the so called "Big Tribes". What he said 100 years ago in a far off continent is particularly relevant today, in 2013 in this small patch of land we call Kenya in East Africa:
Let us, Great-Russian Social-Democrats, also try to define our attitude to this ideological trend. It would be unseemly for us, representatives of a dominant nation in the far east of Europe and a goodly part of Asia, to forget the immense significance of the national question—especially in a country which has been rightly called the “prison of the peoples”, and particularly at a time when, in the far east of Europe and in Asia, capitalism is awakening to life and self-consciousness a number of #8220;new” nations, large and small; at a moment when the tsarist monarchy has called up millions of Great Russians and non-Russians, so as to “solve” a number of national problems in accordance with the interests of the Council of the United Nobility and of the Guchkovs, Krestovnikovs, Dolgorukovs, Kutlers and Rodichevs…"No nation can be free if it oppresses other nations,” said Marx and Engels, the greatest representatives of consistent nineteenth century democracy, who became the teachers of the revolutionary proletariat. And, full of a sense of national pride, we Great-Russian workers want, come what may, a free and independent, a democratic, republican and proud Great Russia, one that will base its relations with its neighbours on the human principle of equality, and not on the feudalist principle of privilege, which is so degrading to a great nation. Just because we want that, we say: it is impossible, in the twentieth century and in Europe (even in the far east of Europe), to “defend the fatherland” otherwise than by using every revolutionary means to combat the monarchy, the landowners and the capitalists of one’s own fatherland, i.e., the worst enemies of our country. We say that the Great Russians cannot “defend the fatherland” otherwise than by desiring the defeat of tsarism in any war, this as the lesser evil to nine-tenths of the inhabitants of Great Russia. For tsarism not only oppresses those nine-tenths economically and politically, but also demoralises, degrades, dishonours and prostitutes them by teaching them to oppress other nations and to cover up this shame with hypocritical and quasi-patriotic phrases.
For more on how Marxists have approached the National Question, please consult Michael Lowy's excellent monograph which is available at this link.
In my view, in that last extract, Lenin is speaking to the “Big Tribes” of Kenya, specifically to the Agikuyu, the Luo, the Kalenjins, the Luhyas, the Kambas.
To a greater or lesser degree, these communities have what Mutahi Ngunyi called the “Tyranny of Numbers.” As the always erudite, articulate,immaculate Ali Mwakwere remarked ruefully when he was on Citizen TVs Cheche programme, even if he wanted to become the next President of Kenya what were his chances based on the fact that he hailed from the tiny Digo tribe at the Coast.
Those so called “ Big Tribes” have an enormous responsibility in guiding the future growth, stability and destiny of Kenya.
Finally, here is how the ANC, the liberation movement that has been the ruling party in South Africa since April 27, 1994 conceptualized their National Question in 1997:
The Essence of the National Question
The national question plays itself out in different ways which are specific to the concrete conditions in various parts of the world. Nevertheless, it is fundamentally a continuous search for equality by various communities which have historically merged into a single nation-state, or the struggle for self-determination and even secession by communities within such states.
In the global context, the national question is fundamentally a an on going search for national sovereignty or self-rule.
A number of basic principles should be taken into account in addressing the national question in our country. These are summarised below in the form of ten theses:
The liberation movement in South Africa characterised our society as Colonialism of a Special Type to describe the unique situation where both the colonisers and the colonised shared one country.
The basic conclusion arising from this, is that the National Democratic Revolution (NDR) is an act of addressing the national question: to create a united, non-racial, non-sexist and democratic society. The "national character" of the NDR is therefore the resolution of the antagonistic contradictions between the oppressed majority and their oppressors; as well as the resolution of the national grievance arising from the colonial relations.
National oppression and its legacy are linked closely to class exploitation. Part of the debates on the characterisation of South Africa under apartheid was the question of whether national oppression was a necessary condition for South African capitalism, or whether, in fact, South African capitalism was a necessary condition for national oppression.
What this debate highlights is that national oppression can only be successfully addressed in the context of socio-economic transformation.
This entails much more than competition among the "multi-racial" middle strata and classes for material benefits that can be gained out of the achievement of democracy, a phenomenon to which concepts like "black empowerment" popularly tend to be reduced. Rather, it means improving the quality of life of the poor, the overwhelming majority of whom are defined by South African capitalism as blacks in general, and Africans in particular. In other words, the implementation of the RDP is an essential part of addressing the national question.
A nation is not equivalent to a classless society. This would be a contradiction in terms, because the concept of class is by definition an international phenomenon, requiring the "withering away" of nations as such.
A nation is a multi-class entity. Under a system of capitalism, it will have its bourgeoisie, middle strata, rural communities - rich and poor. The objective of the NDR is not the creation of a socialist or communist society, though its progression, for those who adhere to these aims, does not exclude these long-term consequences.
Among the central tasks of the NDR is the improvement of the quality of life of especially the poor, and also to ensure that in the medium-to long-term, the place that individuals occupy in society is not defined by race. The opposite is the case in present day South Africa, where the poor are by definition mostly black, whilst the majority of the rich are by definition white.
An important part of this is that the NDR also entails the building of a black bourgeoisie. The tendering conditions that government has introduced, and its encouragement of the private sector to promote all kinds of "empowerment", aptly illustrate this. The reality is that the bigger and more successful this black bourgeoisie becomes, the more diminished its race consciousness will become, for example in its attitude to workers, and dealing with unions.
At the same time, the unfolding NDR has also meant the fast growth of a black middle strata. This process will speed up even more as opportunities open up in various areas of life.
The democratic movement must seek to influence these classes and strata - both black and white - to take an active part in the realisation of the Reconstruction and Development Programme. This would then enable them to act/ behave in a way that promotes South Africa’s true interests.
Apartheid was successful in crippling working class unity, and that legacy is still felt today.
The ANC enjoys the support of the majority of the Coloured and Indian middle strata. What we usually refer to as the Coloured and Indian question has to do with the expression of fears of the working class (including the unemployed) among these communities. These fears relate to the perception that the rise of the African worker and the African poor, directly impacts on the comparative privilege that apartheid gave them in relation to African people. Similarly, this applies to white workers, which is partly why many of them became the mass base of the ultra-right. There are, of course, other important elements that come into play such as language, religion, racism and the geographic separation of communities.
This unique situation underlines the centrality of building working class unity as key to creating the South African nation.
It is important to realise that the national question is also a superstructural phenomenon at the level of consciousness, "feelings" and perceptions. Thus, it has an important and dynamic momentum of its own, underpinned by factors such as language, culture and religion. The social psychological element of the national question can therefore be used effectively to promote the process of forming a nation, or indeed, to undermine it.
One of our greatest successes in the transition has been to promote the "feeling" of pride in being South African, including through activities like sport, which may seem trivial. Capturing the national imagination through the campaign for a "New Patriotism" is critical to nation-building.
However, the social psychological phenomenon on its own is not sustainable without socio-economic transformation. Neither can it be accepted as universally credible in a situation in which the beneficiaries of apartheid do not accept that they have to forego some of these privileges. The rumblings on issues such as education, welfare grants, labour matters, and so on, are a reflection of this problem.
Individuals are social beings with different social experiences, class backgrounds, political histories, religious affiliations as well as sport and music preferences. With regard to the national question; race, ethnic origins, language and sometimes even religion, have an important role to play in defining a person’s identity. Above all, the fact of belonging to this country and this state, is itself an important definer of identity.
Therefore, individuals will have multiple identities: for instance being a South African with a specific mother tongue, class position, political and religious affiliation and so on. These identities do not necessarily disappear in the melting pot of broad South Africanism. Rather, they can all co-exist in healthy combination. The fundamental question that has to be asked is which identity assumes prominence, and under what conditions.
To deny the reality of these identities by the democratic movement is to create a vacuum which can easily be exploited by counter-revolution.
However, the main thrust of the NDR is not to promote fractured identities, but to encourage the emergence of a common South African identity. At the same time, it should be noted that some of the identities associated with "culture" or "ethnicity" or "religion" can in fact be contradictory to the building of a new nation that is based on principles of equity. For example, these attributes are used as an excuse to perpetuate gender oppression, or to campaign for racial or ethnic divisions among citizens.
From its characterisation of apartheid colonialism, the ANC was correct in asserting, in the documents on Strategy and Tactics from the Morogoro and Kabwe Consultative Conferences, that the main content of the NDR is the liberation of Black people in general, and Africans in particular. They are in the majority, and they constitute even an overwhelmingly larger majority of the poor.
Related to this is the identity of the South African nation in the making: whether it should truly be an African nation on the African continent, or a clone, for example, of the US and UK in outlook; in the style and content of its media, in its cultural expression, in its food, in the language accents of its children, and so forth. Hence, what is required is a continuing battle to assert African hegemony in the context of a multi-cultural and non-racial society.
It is debatable whether the popular imagery of a "rainbow nation" is useful in this respect. There is an important role that it does play as popular imagery. But it used to express the character of South African society as one made up of black Africans who pay allegiance to Africa, whites who pay allegiance to Europe, Indians who pay allegiance to India and Coloureds somewhere in the undefined middle of the rainbow, then it can be problematic. For it would fail to recognise the healthy osmosis among the various cultures and other attributes in the process towards the emergence of a new African nation.
Futhermore, Morogoro was correct to assert that this main content of the NDR should find expression in the leadership structures of the ANC, and indeed in the country as a whole. This is usually referred to as "African leadership".
However, this principle does not imply mechanical proportional representation in leadership structures. In other words, that we should do "ethnic, racial, language, gender and class arithmetic" in composing leadership structures.
The principle of African leadership and balanced representation in racial, gender, ethnic and class terms is a broad one, which should find broad expression in actual practice. Yet, attention should always be paid to these broad groupings because a critical mass can be reached where perceptions of dominance can take root.
The principle of African leadership does not mean moving away from merit: One cannot proceed from the premise that it is people, other that African people, who have merit. However, apartheid deliberately denied opportunities to Blacks in general, and Africans in particular. Therefore, it is critical that deliberate steps are taken to empower them to play their role. Affirmative action is meant to address this, and naturally, it is those who have been most disadvantaged who ought to be the foremost beneficiaries of such a programme.
The national question can never be fully resolved. This is because it is not merely a material question, or one that is it related solely to various forms of power. This derives from the fact that emotional and psychological factors are attached to it. In addition, people will continue to have multiple identities.
Instead, the challenge is to maintain a healthy equilibrium between centrifugal ("disintegrative") and centripetal ("integrative") tendencies.
Indeed, as we seek to integrate South African society across racial, language, ethnic and other barriers, we are also engaged in the process of developing those individual elements that distinguish these various communities from one another.
It will not be possible to achieve the kind of balance that will satisfy everyone for all time, even if the broad principle is attained in practice. This is aggravated by the fact that individuals compete for positions in politics, the academic terrain, the economy and elsewhere. The more dishonest and underhanded ones among them might seek to use criteria which exclude those who have historically been disadvantaged, or to use the racial, ethnic and /or language card to advance their personal ambitions.
Even within the ANC, tensions will flare up from time to time, especially in periods such as preparations for National Conference and other allocations of positions of power and influence.
The process of nation formation depends on objective conditions such as the fact of an integrated national economy, the historical evolution of a nation-state, national identity and so on. This objective environment is itself a product of human activity; in our case represented broadly in the act of colonisation and the struggle against it .
This struggle was itself an important and conscious act of nation-building. To this extent, the ANC (and other political movements), the new government and organs of civil society, have a critical role to play in facilitating the emergence of a new nation: in nation-building.
This includes striving for consistent and thorough-going democracy, effecting socio-economic transformation, and encouraging a New Patriotism. It must also include the elimination of the geographical separation along racial and ethnic lines, in the programmes to provide housing and other services.