Over the past 50 years the tunaomba Serikali (we beseech the Government) mantra has been most loud from Northern part of Kenya. This is one of the saddest refrains of post-independence Kenya. It is hugely unfortunate because it is an expression of utter despair. When a non-northern Kenyan uttered it on TV primetime news, the country sat up and listened. Serikali actually rushed to her aid. The lady from Kano Plains stood knee-deep in flood waters and told my fellow broadcaster and scribe Willis Raburu of her family’s devastating losses following torrential rains, capping her appeal with the northern Kenya plea, tunaomba Serikali.
As a nation, we are gearing up to celebrate Kenya @50. As we celebrate, it is important to reflect on the past, the present and secure our collective future.
The northern parts of Kenya have for the longest time projected hopelessness, despair and agony. Insecurity is the greatest challenge since colonial times. Famine now alternates with floods, thanks to climate change. Illiteracy, disease, and lack of infrastructure are rampant.
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Various theories have been advanced to explain the situation the people of these arid and semi-arid regions (ASALs) find themselves in. As I was growing up and interacting with other Kenyans in different parts of our country, I died a little each time I heard words like “primitive, undeveloped, backward” used to describe people of Northern Kenya. The people’s rich culture has also been blamed, but I must admit in the 21st Century some retrogressive cultural practices are being fast-abandoned, like FGM, early marriage and moranism.
There are five challenges we must address to rewrite the history of Northern Kenya for the next 50 years. First, pastoral communities have no option but to realise that inter-communal conflict has been of no benefit to them and they must embrace peace and coexistence. Second, pastoralists voted for the new Constitution because they believed devolution would right the wrongs of underdevelopment. ASAL leaders must not let this aspiration die. Third, I have a final “naomba Serikali” addressed to the National Government, which echoes the prayer of many. Since security is still a function of the National Government, let the life of every Kenyan be taken seriously, regardless of region, colour, race or religion.
Let the mentality of “cattle rustling is a cultural practice” be buried with the last 50 years and the phrase “this has been happening since time immemorial” never again be uttered by those given responsibility of safeguarding human life and property.
Four, livestock keeping, the mainstay of pastoralists, must start working for residents and not vice versa. County governments have the chance to transform this industry, given little attention since Independence. Five, let’s avoid the so-called “resource curse”. It is amazing how most natural resources are being discovered in the most neglected regions. One wonders whether colonialists knew something when they declared the region the Northern Frontier District (why no Western, Eastern or Southern frontiers?) a closed area.