By Omar Mohamed
Mention northern Kenya and what comes to mind is hunger, insecurity and disease.
It is a region where images of men, women and children on the verge of starvation have become an unofficial trademark as often seen in our print and electronic media. Ugly shanties crown the hopelessness that prevails, nearly 50 years after independence.
Bandit attacks, livestock theft, wanton killings and poverty have killed the ego and dignity of a once proud Somali people.
How did it all start? Pundits point to the period immediately after independence and the misguided agitation to secede from Kenya and be part of the so-called greater Somalia.
The aftermath was the bloody Shifta war as Kenya fought to maintain its territorial border. Many lives and livestock that form the economic mainstay of the region were lost. Men and women suffered injuries that rendered them economically unproductive while others were rounded up and detained in concentration camps.
In the process, some crossed over into Somalia to live as refugees while those who remained behind had to live under a state of emergency slapped by the Government to check further insurrection. The era of hunger and insecurity in the region had begun.
The end of the Shifta war in the late 1960s saw the Government with assistance from the United States of America start a multi million shillings range water project for the entire region with grazing blocks.
The project modelled on the American Cow Boy ranges of Arizona, Texas and other states failed because it did not incorporate the local Somali community for resource management.
What followed was a massive migration of locals from district to district, contrary to the age-old traditional grazing pattern dictated by wet and dry seasons. Result? Severe environmental degradation of the rangelands and subsequent poverty.
This collapse of the US Range Water Development Project, Cow Boy style was followed in the 1980s by the notorious Structural Adjustment Programme introduced by the World Bank.
The programme effectively removed Government subsidy on water, health, education and other essential services with dire effects on the recovery of pastoral communities from the Shifta menace.
The Arid Lands Resource Management Programme that came to life in 1994 courtesy of the World Bank showed signs of resuscitating the region through emergency intervention, only to come to an abrupt end last year. Oh, what a blow it was! Tragically, there was no fall back management in place.