We must do more to promote growth in pastoralist regions

Political leaders comprising governors, parliamentarians and county assembly speakers from the 14 pastoralist-dominated counties held the second annual leadership summit last week, led by myself as the current president of the summit. The objectives of Pastoralist Leadership Summit that brings together 130 leaders are to promote and develop institutional, legal and policy interventions at both national and county levels that enhance realisation of peace and security, and socio-economic development in these counties. Its role transcends lobby or advocacy.

For a long time, these leaders have been on the periphery of national discourses by and large, whether in the political, development or socio-economic spheres. Most Kenyans characterise these counties as the harsh arid and drought-stricken terrain, and perennial ethnic conflict hotbeds.

The 14 counties — Narok, Kajiado, Turkana, West Pokot, Baringo, Samburu, Mandera, Wajir, Garissa, Tana River, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Isiolo, Marsabit and Laikipia — have a quarter of the country’s population, and occupy more than four-fifths of the land mass, making Kenya indeed a pastoralist country. The region boasts nearly 10 million heads of cattle, over 36 million sheep and goats, and about three million camels. Yet, our livestock and beef industry is nothing to write home about.

Livestock contributes 13 per cent of the GDP, and an appropriate export trade strategy in this sector can help eliminate our current account deficit. Hence, the oft-repeated demand by pastoralists for a livestock marketing board to address this matter fully. But the region is endowed with far more than livestock. The potential for irrigation in these very expansive counties cannot be over-emphasised. The government’s own estimates is that for every shilling invested in this region, the return is likely to be five or more, compared to the so-called high potential areas where the return is one shilling! These counties are blessed with more than just hydrocarbons, wind or other natural resources now being discovered.

The government’s pledge to address insecurity is bearing fruit. The perennial ethnic clashes and cattle rustling are on significant decline according to the National Cohesion and Integration Commission. Nonetheless, it is essential for security agencies to pursue county specific responses that take account of geographical and cultural dynamics. The political leadership from these regions is working on a leadership code of conduct that charges political leaders with a responsibility to embrace peace and co-existence and shun incitement. Insecurity has often been a key obstacle to development of the region. It is my belief that effective political leadership and good governance in our counties hold the key to addressing many of the challenges of infrastructural and socio-economic development. Since independence, leaders from the region have failed to leverage their influence in government and public service to benefit their communities.

They chose to be passive players in a nation where development paradigms are primarily premised on political patronage. We cheer the governments and political parties we support, but rarely demand an economic payoff that touches the lives of these communities. Should we continue to be spectators from the political periphery when we represent the single largest constituency in Parliament? Perhaps not! May be there are hindrances that need fixing. These are vexing issues members engaged their minds on during the conference.

Pastoralists believe the good times are ahead. Our infrastructure and social services facilities will be done some day, and investors will troop to the region. Average poverty indices will decline, and illiteracy figures will drop to national averages. The high maternal mortality rates, and the perennial water crisis will be a thing of the past. But all these can only be achieved if the local leadership walks the talk in executing its own commitments. 

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