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Majimbo in Kenya’s Past: Federalism in the 1940s and 1950s By Robert Maxon ...

Chapter 1:  Introduction
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Majimbo in Kenya’s Past:

by a substantial segment of Kenya’s population, and the choice between a centralized or decentralized constitutional system has thus been a “key fault line in Kenya’s polity.”1 Thus, the use of this word for a federal system brings with it some highly charged meanings. Many of these meanings continue to resonate in Kenyan political discourse and are a source of divisiveness on several levels.

Whereas the 1960s use of the term primarily referred to a federal system framed to ensure democracy that was termed by its supporters’ regionalism, the federal advocacy described in this book had a very different purpose. These schemes were devised as a means to block majority rule in Kenya. This undemocratic motivation returned with the 1990s demands that emanated among a segment of Kenya’s political elite for what was called majimbo. Such demands, and threats associated with them, formed a backdrop to the 1992 and 1997 elections because violence was associated with advocacy for federalism. This led to the descriptive term majimboism in reference to such advocacy. There is no universally agreed definition for this word. A recent book described it “as the strategy of dividing Kenya into provinces with equal political power that would handle their domestic matters while the central government controlled defense and foreign relations” that “had first been entertained in the 1950s.”2 Since the 1990s, it has usually been interpreted to encompass antidemocratic tendencies (restrictions on voting rights), limits on the civil liberties of certain groups of people, including the right to own or lease land, the provision of balanced economic development and equitable use of resources, and ethnic cleansing by means of violent acts.3

Calls for majimbo emerged very strongly, for example, as a major issue during the 2007 election campaign. Research among potential voters prior to the poll indicated that most associated majimbo with the idea that regions would control the resources located within them as well as that people living outside their “homelands” would have to return there with the implementation of majimbo.4 During that electoral campaign, a new term, ugatuzi, came into use to refer specifically to a scheme for