By Naisula Lesuuda
Since 2009, I have been part of the ‘The Peace Caravan’, an initiative championing peace in Kenya’s Arid and Semiarid Lands (ASALs), predominantly inhabited by pastoralists.
Notable Peace Caravan veterans comprise professionals from pastoral communities, among them Principal Secretary nominees Richard Lesiampe and James Teko Lopoyatum.
The central message of the Caravan urges all ASAL communities to embrace development and abandon cattle rustling and killing of fellow humankind in cultural practices clearly overtaken by time. That two key drivers of the Peace Caravan have been as much as identified as material for PS nomination in the current government is itself great motivation to many in our communities.
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This nomination should be resounding testimony that ASAL communities too should aspire to national leadership and press on towards higher levels of professional excellence while being trustees of their communities. Because of the very character of the ASALs, neither devolution nor privileged positions of some of their own will translate into greater wellbeing without peace being the cornerstone. Peace in the ASALs is complex. Lack of it is not about sheer delinquency and disregard for the law. Cattle rustling, common among many pastoralists for instance, is a cultural practice that does not only deliberately aim at disrupting peace and harmonious co-existence among neighbouring communities.
Rather, it is more of an outdated hangover of pre-modern bravado that ought to be replaced with 21st Century human development pursuits. As long as such practices persist and as long as the government of the day does not identify the root cause of the breakdown of peace among pastoralists, ineffective deterrents will continue to be prescribed for such quests as peace and security in these areas.
Given that devolution presents a perfect chance to customise development interventions in the regions, there is need to identify the real bottlenecks hindering progress of the ASALs. At the same time, unexplored opportunities and creative interventions aimed at catalysing development in the ASALs must take full cognizance of the peculiarities of these areas.
For ASALs to reap maximum benefits from our current devolved government system, the following attributes must be borne in mind. One, ASALs are defined by the vastness of region and sparse population distribution. That, coupled with nomadism, persistent drought, scarce water resources and poor access or total lack of it, these regions are difficult to provide with basic services such as security policing, healthcare and education.
Two, high levels of illiteracy, which exacerbate retrogressive cultural practices such as female genital mutilation (FGM) and early marriage remain a hindrance to fostering social and economic development of the ASALs.
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Three, the Jubilee government, in its commitment to boost national food security, has severally pledged to open up an additional one million hectares of hitherto untilled land to irrigation. Obviously, only swathes of fallow land available in the ASALs can host such a massive programme. Herein lies a huge opportunity for ASAL communities.
Four, with county-specific security options, we must now take the responsibility of ridding the ASALs of criminal elements out to undermine our chance to turn around our people’s fortunes. We must prioritise safeguarding our people in the ASALs.
Five, the time wasted by leaders away from the office and in peace and reconciliation interventions should now be spent in planning and implementing development programmes. We must ensure resources from the national Government and those generated in our counties go to worthy causes to improve livelihoods and not cyclical peace building efforts.
Six, we must make full use of the array of leaders to spur real progress. The Governors, Senators and MPs (both Houses of the National Assembly), Women Representatives and County Representatives are resources whose influence we must exploit to enhance our wellbeing. Top-level national leaders from the ASALs serving the current government should help highlight the plight and special place of the ASALs. Some of these leaders include Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro, Majority Leader National Assembly Adan Duale and Interior and National Coordination Secretary Joseph ole Lenku.
Chairman and Deputy Chair of the Administration and Security Committee in Parliament Asman Kamama and Alois Lentoimaga respectively, are also from the ASAL community.
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ASALs are on the move and my hope is in the next five years they will cease being synonymous with homes for white-elephant projects, failed CDF-supported schools, dry boreholes and dysfunctional far-flung security posts. Most importantly, the ASALs should shed off the image of killing battlefields.