Kenya paying huge price for neglecting Northern region

Home guards and Kenya Police Reservists patrol Nakatong'wa Primary School in Turkana East. It was the only school operating after five others were shut down due to rising insecurity in the area. October 28. 2014. [Peter Ochieng, Standard]

For months now, armed security agents in armoured vehicles have been combing parts of Northern Kenya in search of bandits who have made life unbearable. Across the border, Uganda troops too have been on standby waiting to repulse herders who regularly cross over in pursuit of pasture and water.

Life in the north has been hell as a result of harsh climatic conditions and policies by successive governments, which have written off the area, left locals to their own devices and only show interest when minerals are discovered underneath the forsaken lands.

The foundations of this official neglect of the wild north can be traced way back to 1933 when the colonial government made a blueprint for land use after alienating the most “valuable “land for European use and who had rights to use it.

After a detailed study, the Kenya Land Commission of 1933 found that the total land in the Northern Frontier and Turkana Provinces except Pokot (Suk) was 116,959 square miles of which about 120,038 people called home. This land was so vast that the government argued that it would amount to an unjustifiable locking up of land if it were devoted in perpetuity to the exclusive use of ' the occupant tribes.

Ironically, although speculative State functionaries were excited at the prospects of rich deposits of minerals being buried deep under the barren land, they were unwilling to allocate any resources to develop the area. “While it is clearly our duty to propose means for the protection of the natives in the secure occupation of the land, we are averse from recommending that any native reserves should at this time be declared in either the Turkana or Northern Frontier Provinces.”

To justify this, the government used a broad brush to paint entire Northern Kenya as a desolate region even as it admitted that there were pockets of valuable pasture lands which were suitable for agriculture.

Such areas, the government decreed were too good to be left for the exclusive use of the wretched of the earth arguing that “these areas are worthy of much better use than nomadic tribes can give them.” The government further explained: "We do not feel bound to reserve such land exclusively for the natives, since we do not consider that they have established a claim to exclusive possession either on historical or economic grounds."

Consequently, the State formulated a policy for lush lands. The best interests of the colony were to be leased to non-native individuals or firms, who have the capital to improve and develop them.

The leasers were however freed from any obligations to the locals by the government which pontificated, “We do not consider that it is necessary to insist that, in every case, such leases should only be granted if they are directly beneficial to the natives.”

For 60 years, the north, like a sore toe, has been aching from neglect and marginalisation. Kenya continues to bleed whenever civilians and police officers die in the crossfire of bandits even as millions of shillings are sunk into security operations.