Building Bridges initiative yesterday visited Mandera County to collect views on reforms.
For Garissa Senator Yusuf Haji, who is the chairman of the Building Bridges initiative, returning to Mandera town where he served as a young district officer 45 years ago was a mixture of nostalgia and marvel.
Nostalgia because it reminded him of his buoyant youthful days. Marvel because of the transformation the town has undergone — from a row of about 10 shops on the road to Rhamu — into a bustling urban centre with modern infrastructure to boot.
Mr Haji amused his audience at a Mandera hotel where the Building Bridges initiative team met local leaders when he talked of pitch dark nights lit only by fire flies whenever the moon took leave.
“From time to time during those shifta years, grenades hurled from enemy territory across the border swept through the night sky with scary light, driving us to the phantom safety of our houses,” he said.
“The missiles flew over my house as if it was the enemy’s target,” reminisced Haji, who took over from a white district officer killed by Shifta bandits near El Wak after his car had a tyre burst.
“We had pails serving as latrines and they were emptied in the wee hours,” he recalled.
The veteran administrator who was later to serve as district commissioner, provincial commissioner, assistant minister and minister said it was courtesy of devolution and political tranquility brought about by ingenuities such as the handshake on which BBI is anchored that Mandera and other formerly marginalised areas were now catching up in development.
“You now have tarmac roads, street lights, slap up hotels, reliable air transport and relative peace, all of which were unimaginable only recently,” noted Mr Haji who was accompanied by the Chief Executive Officer of the Building Bridges Initiative Stephen Karau and several members including Dr Adams Oloo, Maj (rtd) John Seii, Samburu Woman Representative Maison Leshoomo, Bishop Lawi Imathiu and the recently retired Catholic Archbishop of Kisumu Archdiocese Zacheus Okoth.
Mandera Governor Ali Roba described the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission (IEBC) as a body in a shambles that ought not to be allowed to handle another election.
“What we need is not the much talked about referendum which this IEBC cannot handle, but fixing of the electoral system plus investing in civic education, intelligence and security,” he said.
Roba said if the collection of views by BBI results in a referendum, then Mandera people will participate to contribute to the agenda with the view to shaping the outcome, but cautioned that old bridges must not be destroyed even as new ones are built.
”I am personally of the view that there is nothing wrong with the current constitution,” he said.
Roba, who was accompanied by Mandera Senator Mohamed Mohamud, Deputy Governor Mohamed Arai, County Commisioner Kutswa Olaka and County Speaker Mohamed Adan Khalif, decried perceived political differences as a source of unnecessary anxiety that was hurting the country.
He recommended that future top national appointments be based on the six regional economic blocs to guarantee inclusivity devoid of tribalism and ethnicity.
To illustrate his point, he said the Frontier Counties Development Council comprising Mandera, Garissa, Wajir, Tana River, Isiolo, Marsabit, Samburu, Turkana, West Pokot and Lamu should be considered for positions at the top in a broad, inclusive representation.
Roba said revenue sharing and allocation should be based on realities of the people’s needs and not population census that leads to unsustainable population race among ethnic communities in various regions.
“Let it be dictated by development priorities, levels of underdevelopment, commitment to poverty eradication, access to proper health care, access to education and such like issues,” he suggested.
He said devolution ought to be strengthened by removing duplication of functions by national and county governments and allocating 50% of the collected funds of the previous financial year and not the last audited and approved accounts.
“We want absolute devolution where resources follow the functions. If water for instance is devolved, the resources allocated should go to the counties directly,” said Roba.
Mandera was the 13th county of call for BBI.
Amb Karau hinted at extension of time to cover all the 47 counties.
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