Kenya’s Frontier Counties have never enjoyed the kind of attention it has received recently. And what’s more, the people talk optimistically about an ideal future. Joint meetings of leaders across the region point to a common agenda that must be executed urgently.
Yesterday, close to 100 leaders both from the county governments and the national government converged in Naivasha to discuss how to change the discourse of development of the region.
It wasn’t the first time this was happening. Under President Mwai Kibaki, a fully-fledged Ministry of Northern Kenya was created “to plan and maximise” on the economic potential of what was mostly a neglected vast bowl of dust.
The ministry created a foundation from which the governors are building a great future. Ideally, the ministry was formed to correct the injustices meted against the Frontier Counties in line with Agenda 4 of the 2008 National Accord.
During the two-day conference organised under the auspices of the Frontier Counties Development Council, a regional block formed by the Governors of eight counties and now to be joined by West Pokot and Samburu, the feeling of optimism and excitement was palpable. They can see the Promised Land, if you like.
The leaders collectively agreed to turn a new leaf and instead, focus their energies on turning this area into the next big thing in the country with the discovery of gas and oil a major boost.
But then, this has not come easy. There had to be deliberate efforts to change attitudes and feelings. There was a time when the residents of these counties viewed the government as an enemy. The Shifta Wars of the 1960’s and the heavy-handed response had created the impression that the government was out to maim and kill them.
In fact, President Jomo Kenyatta’s regime reinforced this feeling of fear and bitterness through its actions of omission and commission.
It didn’t end there; in the decades that followed the independence era some of the worst human rights atrocities were committed against the people. In 1960’s alone over 2,700 people were killed during the Isiolo massacre including the Isiolo Mosque Massacre of 18 elders in 1967. While responding to an insurgency, the Kenyan Government shot all the men on sight.
The policy of deliberately denying the people “development” has done little to assuage the feeling of exclusion felt by the most residents. According to the Bethwel Kiplagat Report on the Garissa and Wagalla massacres, the people feel even more excluded. And to date, incidences of police brutality still occur albeit cloaked as an extension of the war on terror.
Yet all these is not holding back the region. With support from the Ministry of Devolution and ASAL areas, there are concerted efforts to accommodate the new realities of devolved institutions.
The purpose of these joint meeting by leaders from 10 counties is to put together a development master plan for the whole region.
These policies take into account the unique capacities and challenges of these counties. Pastoralism, the dominant production system in much of the region, has been especially misunderstood.
The long period of neglect and exclusion made it difficult for policy-makers to create the environment for exploiting the potential of the livestock industry. The leather industry alone has the potential to transform the economy of the whole region.
But then, the die is cast. There is no turning back. There is huge optimism, thanks to devolution. 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.
With meagre resources from the sharable revenue, the counties in the North are transforming slowly but surely. Additionally, the convergence of leaders in the spirit of working together has made it possible for the region to lobby for more development funding.
In fact, the World Bank will invest in infrastructural projects worth more than Sh120 billion one of the biggest outlay in the region.