KAIKAI KICKER: The ethnicity lessons for Kenya, all the way from Bosnia-Herzegovina

  • The Balkans first captured my imagination when as a young secondary schoolboy I went to listen to former president Daniel arap Moi.
  • Moi was big on patriotism and national unity and on the day, he spoke passionately about the two issues.
  • Global events always found their way to president Moi’s public speeches.

My kicker is informed by events in Bosnia-Herzegovina, a distant, small nation in Central Europe, a region famous by the name – the Balkans.

The Balkans first captured my imagination when as a young secondary schoolboy I went to the marketplace to listen to former president Daniel arap Moi, who had made one of his highly anticipated stops in my hometown.

Now, president Moi was big on patriotism and national unity and on the day, he spoke passionately about the two issues. Global events always found their way to president Moi’s public speeches and on that rainy afternoon in Kilgoris, the breakup of the Balkan giant nation of Yugoslavia was in Moi’s mind. The breakup was going on as the visibly pained president spoke and Moi used the Yugoslavia story to illustrate for Kenyans the dangers of ethnicity. ‘Msipochunga, ukabila itavunja vunja nyinyi kama Yugoslavia.’ – if you are not careful, tribalism will break you up like Yugoslavia’ he warned in his characteristic stern voice.

Moi’s marketplace warning came back to mind this morning when I followed reports of possible further disintergration of what used to be the great Yugoslavia. Bosnia and Herzegovina is one of the ethnic-based States that emerged out of Yugoslavia; but something interesting is going on there presently.

First, the political structure of Bosnia and Herzegovina as a nation is as complex as its double-barreled name. The Dayton USA peace accord signed in 1995, created a two-in-one single State consisting of a Serbian republic and a Croat and Bosniak federation. In ethnic or sectarian terms, Bosnia and Herzegovina is made up of three ethnic groups namely Serbs, Bosniaks who are Muslims and Croats who are mainly Christian Catholics. These three ethnic groups have been in a delicate co-existence since the end of the Bosnia war in 1995. In order to cohabit, Bosnia and Herzegovina is run by not one, not two but three presidents one each from the three ethnic blocs. They call it a shared presidency.

But sharing the presidency has not been sufficient to guarantee stability for Bosnia Herzegovina. As we speak tonight, the Serbians want to secede while the Croats and Bosniaks are bickering bitterly over modalities of picking two presidential candidates for the two slots reserved for their federation in the three-member rotating presidency.

So serious is the threat of secession that the Serbs are considering establishing a Serbian army and cut ties with joint state institutions such as the judiciary and the tax authorities.

The quarrel between the Bosniaks and the Croats on the other hand, sounds so much like a homegrown Kenyan story. Because they share a federation, Croats accuse Bosniaks of using their numerical strength to elect for president a Croat candidate who enjoys the least support among Croats themselves. The Croats are now demanding electoral reforms and the creation of their own electoral district in which only Croats are eligible to vote for a Croat president. This story must sound familiar for Kenyans especially in so-called cosmopolitan counties; but that is a story for another day. 

Let me now bring this whole Bosnia-Herzegovina thing home. By creating a three-member presidency, the Daytona peace accord was hoping to end prospects of violence and build trust among the Serbs, Croats and Bosniaks. But 26 years later, the proof is out that the ethnic groups never moved an inch. The simple reason is, the political structure ensured that Bosnia-Herzegovina was constitutionally dysfunctional, and hopelessly so to date.

Now, for some time now, we have seen leaders here in Kenya seeking to re-write the Constitution ostensibly to end cycles of election violence, promote equitable sharing of resources and other such high sounding desires. Well, like all moderates in Kenya I always say, some proposals are good… And some are not.

But overall, I just hope Kenyans don’t bark up the wrong tree.

That is my kicker!