Fifty one years after Kenya attained her independence, our inequalities, in general continue to spiral at an alarming rate. These inequalities are manifested in various facets which include income disparities and inequalities, gender inequalities and the more prominent regional inequalities. I’ll direct my intellect towards unmasking the ignorance of the past and present governments in enhancing socio-economic development in the arid and semi-arid lands (ASALs).
The ASALs cover a very wide geographical area cutting across Turkana County through West Pokot County, Baringo, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Wajir, Mandera, Garissa, Tana River and parts of Kitui and Taita Taveta Counties. All these counties face the same or rather similar challenges and the indigenous ethnic communities in these counties are generally pastoralist communities.
One jaw-dropping fact is that a map, aggregating all these counties can be curved up from the map of Kenya and it interestingly forms a different “country” or “nation”. This sounds a bit queer but this is what enchanted me to write about these regions.
Immediately after independence, the Mzee Jomo Kenyatta-led government was faced with the secession challenge of the Northern Frontier that was being propagated by the Somalis who wanted to join Somalia and not be part of Kenya. This call for secession led to the Shifta War that began in 1963 and was eventually suppressed effectively in 1967.
My hunch is that at the end of the Shifta menace, Jomo Kenyatta’s and Daniel Moi’s governments hardly initiated efforts that would lead to the socio-economic transformation of the Northern Frontier. Perhaps they were probably meting out some form of punishment to the daring secessionists. If not so, then why have these counties, notably in the then North Eastern Province, been lacking tarmac roads until the developmental salvage occasioned by devolution? For instance, Mandera County residents have only seen a tarmac road sometime in 2014, thanks to the efforts of the Governor, H.E. Ali Roba.
On a general scale, the ASALs are faced with a number of challenges and some of these are:
· Cases of insecurity due to banditry and majorly cattle rustling as well as inter-community clashes over the available resources.
· Inadequate health facilities which have consequently led to high levels of mortality rates especially among children and expectant mothers.
· Poor and dilapidated infrastructure.
· Very low levels and rates of school attendance by the school-going children.
· High incidences of hunger and famine.
The Sessional Paper Number 10 of 1965 known as African Socialism and Its Application to Planning in Kenya envisioned an equal Kenyan society irrespective of ethnic or regional orientation(s). But with all the visible and tangible regional inequalities imply that our political leaders have continuously failed in ensuring we have a nation in which each person feels proud to be part of its citizenry.
Methinks the rain started beating our political leaders in the past Moi and Kenyatta regimes when they arguably chose to pursue politics driven by the greed to consolidate power and not politics driven by the urge and the requisite ideologies in order to spur socio-economic development.
To the drive the point home, I’ll give a clear, elaborate and precise explanation: the ASALs have had low populations in the past and even in the present compared to other regions in Kenya. As we know, politics especially its sub-set of elections focuses on the numbers (population). It is therefore true to put forth that the ASALs have been neglected and ignored on purpose for simply not having supreme numbers vital in an election.
This hence calls for the sanctification of our political institutions and structures. As Professors Daron Acemoglu and James Robinson note in their book, “Why Nations Fail: The Origins of Power, Prosperity and Poverty,” economic development can’t be separated from politics; they are inter-twined. As a nation called Kenya, the central government of the day and future governments should take advantage of devolution and ensure that these regions are properly developed. However, this will only be a mirage if our political leaders will continue dancing to the drum beats and tunes of divisive politics and politics that is not collective in nature. If this continues to be the case, then the future generations of the ASALs will forever be affected by the resultant negative reverberations.
The development agenda for the ASALs needs not only to be furthered by the respective county governments but also by the central government. The latter can do this by creating a ministry specifically meant for the ASALs. I even suggest, though still idealistic, that such a ministry be placed under the Office of the President or Deputy President for effective supervision. This step will fortify the residents and inhabitants of these arid and semi-arid regions.
In conclusion, the realization of the overall socio-economic growth and development for Kenya will remain a pipe-dream unless the challenges of the ASALs are fully addressed. These areas can be irrigated to produce various horticultural products which can earn income through value-added exports leading to creation of employment, development of agro-based industries, development of manufacturing and the service sector, infrastructural development as well as growth and development of the whole economy.