By Mohamed Guleid
As I watched the drama around the arrest of three senators, who are opposed to the new revenue-sharing formula, I could not help but delve deep into their thoughts. In the 1980s, Attorney General Charles Njonjo called seven rebellious MPs who were opposed to policies of the government of the day as the ‘Seven Bearded Sisters’.
The rebellious MPs caused a sensation and were responsible for a paradigm shift in how people associated with the government. This was at the height of one-party rule.
Opposing the government was considered an act of treason. Despite the atmosphere of fear, the name ‘Seven Bearded Sisters’ was given to seven opposition MPs: Abuya Abuya, Onyango Midika, Mwashengu wa Mwachofi, James Orengo, Lawrence Sifuna, Chibule wa Tsuma and Koigi wa Wamwere.
Not used to opposition and criticism, the government resorted to arresting and detaining those who disagreed with it. History, therefore, repeats itself.
Once again we have seven senators, Mutula Kilonzor Jnr, Cleophas Malala, Johnson Sakaja, Aaron Cheruiyot, Christopher Langat, Boniface Kabaka, Ledema ole Kina and Kipchumba Murkomen who strongly disagree with the government. Of course, there are many more senators who oppose the formula, but these seven were most vocal even though their counties stand to gain from the formula.
The number seven is magical. It looks like any time seven young politicians join hands to oppose a sitting government employing the strongman approach, their collaboration signals a transition to a new order.
But I have been pondering if our new ‘Seven Bearded Sisters’ are driven by an ideal.
At the centre of it is Kakamega Senator Malala. After completing school, he wrote Shackles of Doom, a controversial play that depicts a film shot in the land of the Kanas, who refer to themselves as the ‘True Kanas’. Their land is rich in oil, but they are ignorant of the treasure that lies beneath their soil.
A delegation arrives on their land and offers a beautiful lady called Wamaitha to be married off to Lopush, who is a Kana in exchange for a piece of land where they can settle. Wamaitha is three weeks pregnant when the delegation comes knocking, and Kimani, her guardian, is responsible for it.
Wamaitha is married off against her will. Her community, with great determination and strong will, constructs the Mafuta Oil Refinery Company.
Hiring at the company is biased and based on nepotism. The Kanas demand equal opportunities, but only one of their own is considered for a watchman post.
The clamour around the resource-sharing formula is centred around similar sentiments. There is a general notion that sparsely populated counties contribute less to the national revenue. But the truth is the opposite. In fact, counties in arid areas of Kenya are the future drivers of the country’s economy.
Turkana County, on which the Shackles of Doom plot is loosely based, is rich with large deposits of oil and underground water. Combined, Marsabit and Garissa’s support to the Exchequer is in the billions of shillings in revenue from wind and sun energy.
Tana River County exports huge amounts of perishable goods because of River Tana and the expansive arable lands. Narok County, one of the losers in the proposed new revenue-share formula, is home to some of the best wildlife sanctuaries in the world, attracting thousands of visitors every year.
The worst consequence of the revenue-sharing debate is likely to be disharmony and deep divisions leading to ethnic unrest. As MPs from Central Kenya continue to defend the formula by hook or crook, they forget the number of their compatriots who live and have acquired large tracts of lands in areas as far as the coastal region and the Rift Valley.
If this debate is not brought to an amicable conclusion where no one loses, the aftermath will have disastrous results. We shall not build any bridge, instead, we shall be left with what Ngugi wa Thiongo says is a nation in tatters. To repair this damage might take decades. A stitch in time saves nine.
Mr Guleid, a former deputy governor of Isiolo County, is CEO of FCDC Secretariat