At the start of the Shifta war in Northern Kenya in 1966, police officers opened fire and killed scores of worshipers at the main mosque in Isiolo while the faithful were praying.
That incident has remained seared in the memories of the people and has forever defined the hostile relationship between the North and specifically, the National Government sitting in Nairobi. Thankfully, that is all in the past and there have been deliberate efforts to promote a rapprochement with the rest of the country.
Needless to say, devolution has in many ways helped unleash the huge potential of the region. The people see themselves not as passive, but active participants in their governance. Today, no one talks about that dark past. Time has moved and with it, the feelings of bitterness have subsided quite significantly. Of course, there is the usual feeling of being left to one’s own means, but surely, there is light at the end of the tunnel. We are no longer the people that Kenya left behind. The region is galloping right behind.
And so, the people talk optimistically about the future. Joint meetings of governors across the region point to a common agenda that must be executed urgently. Their vision to steer their counties to benefit from the shared resources and create a common platform to lobby for more resources to spur growth in their region is shared widely. They acknowledge that development will not “come” on its own. It has to be initiated.
As leaders and people from a region as underdeveloped as the formerly North Eastern Province (NEP), a lot of challenges are thrown at us. Fortunately, the opportunities to solve them are plenty. Devolution is one such opportunity. It is an understatement to claim that devolution has given hope to those of us who for far too long felt left behind. It has, especially because it offers people-driven solutions to the problems the people face.
Most of the Northern Counties under the umbrella of the Frontier Counties Development Council FCDC are the new frontier for Kenya’s future economic development. My delegation spent the night at the Buffalo Spring Game Reserve. The Ashnil Lodge on the banks of the Ewaso Nyiro River offers a unique opportunity to see, dine and have your breakfast as the elephants enjoy their supply of fresh water from the river.
The hornby birds feeling free to come so close that you feel the natural environment and the serenity of it makes you feel like staying there forever. Tourism alone can bring billions of shillings into the Isiolo economy.FCDC leaders want to be part of mainstream Kenya. They no longer want to accept a peripheral role. That is why they came up with a very ambitious but achievable development blueprint.
Of course, they know they alone cannot surmount the challenges presented. Development partners like the World Bank, the United Nation agencies, and the Swiss Development Corporation have demonstrated eagerness and willingness to stand with FCDC.
In July 2016, plans for a tarmacked road from Isiolo to Mandera were approved. The World Bank has also agreed to fund water projects and provide off-grid electricity to the seven counties. This will cost roughly $1 billion. The injection of $1 billion into the North Eastern economy is phenomenal. It is probably the largest investment the Northern Frontier counties have ever seen. What is more, in one fell swoop, the idea of FCDC has become Kenya’s new development corridor. The classical investment areas around the Kenya-Uganda railway will now be decongested.
The new frontier offers fathomless space to investors who will no longer have to worry about space. FCDC counties will offer all the ingredients necessary for industries and businesses to operate optimally.
The amount of natural resources in FCDC counties alone (oil, gas and mineral deposits, wildlife and game, huge tracts of land for all kinds of agriculture) will add so much into the country’s GDP. The sky is the limit. I imagine that my people will no longer trundle the cliché; “tunaomba serikali itusaidie”. With rising literacy and skill rates, poverty should reduce significantly.
An impending economic boom needs a strong human resource capacity. Most importantly, the nagging issue of insecurity will be a thing of the past. Security is a factor of development. In other words, security is a matter of chicken and egg; poverty fuels insecurity and insecurity fuels poverty.
And where this cycle is not broken, communities get enslaved in poverty and insecurity. And so, the new development offers the youth something to live for where previously, hordes of educated, unemployed youth provided a ready swamp for those out to recruit them into crime and even militancy.
Mr. Guleid is a Governance Consultant