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There’s need to invest in northern counties to compensate for slow development

By Mohammed Guleid | Published Thu, February 8th 2018 at 18:34, Updated February 8th 2018 at 18:42 GMT +3
The deplorable state of Isiolo game parks (one of the northern counties) at Buffalo Springs and Shaba National Reserves. [Photo by Ali Abdi/Standard]

This week I will be leading a delegation of development partners and country representatives of United Nations agencies to eight counties in northern Kenya to meet the leadership and residents of these mostly impoverished regions. This high-powered delegation is partnering with the Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC), an association of eight counties, to find ways of leap frogging development to compensate for decades of neglect.

Despite the levelling effect of devolution, data collected by other institutions shows that the northern part of Kenya has a long way to go to catch up with the rest of the country.

The impact of climate change leading to prolonged periods of drought has only made it more difficult for the residents of the region. In fact, though not widely discussed, the drought and its consequences over the last years have become the single most important push factor for people to migrate.

This migration forces mostly the youth to seek livelihoods in major towns or in some cases, join the migration of mystery where many take hazardous journeys to Europe to seek better lives. In some cases, the youth in northern Kenya have become a potential source of recruitment for extremist militant groups like Al Shabaab.

For economic transformation to take place, the funds devolved through the shareable revenues alone are not enough. The northern parts of Kenya needs something similar to the Marshal plan implemented in Germany after the Second World War. Most counties currently are drafting their county integrated development plans (CIDPs).

Action plans

Merely having a CIDP is not sufficient enough to catapult the Northern Frontier counties to a respectable level of development. The National government has beautiful futuristic development agenda such as vision 2030, the Lapsset and other medium-term development plans, but generally these plans lack coherence and, in any case, they are hardly embedded in the CIDPs. For sustainable development to be achieved, the major ingredients for development plans must all be well fitted.

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The basic necessities such as water, health care and food security are dependent on secondary development necessities such as electricity, mobile network and affordable access to internet. These secondary necessities are ingredients for putting up transformative economic activities.

The Ministry of Industrialization and Enterprise development recently launched ‘Kenya’s Industrial Transformation Programme’ where most counties in North were considered in that policy document for developing the livestock sector, in particular, putting value addition on the leather industry. But this requires crucial inputs such electricity, telephone network coverage and technical skills, all of which are in short supply in Northern Kenya.


A study commissioned by the Communications Authority of Kenya (CA) showed that more than 90 per cent of the northern part of Kenya is not covered by the 3G internet service. Fortunately, the World Bank in conjunction with the FCDC and the National government has planned to invest close to Sh1.2 billion for infrastructural projects such as construction of the Isiolo Mandera road and putting up off grid electrical services for the residence of northern Kenya. Once again, even such a huge investment must be part of a mega master-plan where all development programmes are interlinked and the counties also are involved in the planning process.

Despite the gloomy picture, most county governments have managed to bring development to their people. With the little resources given through the national treasury counties such as Mandera, Wajir and Marsabit have managed to tarmac the roads in their major towns and services have been brought closer to the people.

Counties like Isiolo and Marsabit are already embarking on aligning their CIDPs to President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda. In Marsabit County, the governor is already putting over 10,000 people on universal health care.

The Governor of Isiolo intends by the end of his term to have all the residents under universal health coverage. All these plans of course will put a strain on the meagre resources that the counties have under their control. The partners' visit is expected to help these counties to meet some of the primary but essential goals such as health care and provision of water.  

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