Monday, March 4, 2013

The Case for Kenya's Regional Importance

The nation-state, the form of organisation we take for granted today, did not become the ‘norm’ for the majority of the world’s people until the era of European decolonisation following the Second World War.  The proliferation of regional blocs, and the re-emergence of corporate empires, both phenomena of earlier eras but ones which are gaining steam in the early twenty-first century, have made some commentators wonder whether the nation-state’s heyday will have been a short one.

East Africa is one place where regional economic, political, and social cooperation where not amalgamation are on the table.  And the most populous and most economically robust country in a region including (depending on how you draw the boundaries) Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, Burundi, Somalia, and Ethiopia, is Kenya.  Wananchi in Kenya will elect their fourth president since independence today, and will experiment with a new structure of government mandated by the 2010 constitutional overhaul.  This includes county government, an effort to devolve power and responsibility to the local level.

Some suggest that this devolution will be a boon for local democracy.  Others see it as a counterweight to the regionalism of the East African Community.  And still others will see the triumph of majimboism, a parochialism which has eaten away at Kenya’s sense of nationhood since even before independence.

But whatever the voting (underway since last night in California time) yields, East Africans will be reading emerging voting statistics like tea leaves in an effort to see what the results presage for a region which, as this article in The East African argues, is becoming not only more intertwined (a conceit which at least partially ignores a series of centuries-old trading networks which tie East Africa to the centre of the continent, to its southeastern corridor, to the Arabian peninsula, and as far away as China and India), but more essential in economic and security terms to the United States.  Worth a read. 

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