I was not around in the period before independence and the decade thereafter, but I can reminiscence a romantic view of our community in Isiolo back then. My late mother told me of good times. Most of our people depended on livestock for livelihood.
But livestock was plenty. She often narrated how in the evenings they poured away hundreds of litres of cow and camel milk simply because everyone in our village had enough.
Having left public service in the 1940s, my father returned home to Isiolo and started life as a trader. From the records my mother kept, dad used to trade with the neighbouring Ameru community. Business was good and my father was able to educate my siblings.
When independence came, people of Isiolo were euphoric. The sky was the limit, they thought. My elder sister was a determined freedom fighter and once was detained by the colonial police officers because of defying some of the segregation rules. When independence came, she danced on the streets with joy, free at last!
For the Northern Frontier District (NFD), freedom was short-lived. Isiolo was the headquarters of this expansive region. A few years after independence, the Shifta war started. The people of northern Kenya suddenly became the enemy of the state after an insurgency erupted in the region. The government, in a bid to contain the insurgency, embarked on large-scale human rights abuses.
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People were routinely rounded up and put in concentration camps using methods the colonial government used to contain the Mau Mau rebellion. According to records, thousands of people died in this conflict. Tragically, the counter-insurgency general service unit embarked on killing pastoralists. It is estimated that tens of thousands of their livestock were killed, reducing the residents to abject poverty.
As if the effects of the Shifta wars were not enough, the government started a process of deliberate exclusion, making the NFD a colony within Kenya. Emergency laws were introduced and movement of people and livestock was restricted. The level of poverty for NFD people increased in independent Kenya.
But even worse is the policy adopted with regard to development planning. In government spending, the NFD region became excluded. That is why to date, the region has been left behind in all development indicators. In northern Kenya, schools are few, health services are still way below compared to the rest of the country and insecurity is rampant. The national government administration officers appear to condone ethnic conflict, simply because they hardly intervene and that is why insecurity is the order of the day.
The current revenue sharing debate is a reminder of the painful past. The lack of compassion from the more endowed part of Kenya is an indicator that there is no willingness by the ruling elite to look back and understand the challenges the northern parts have gone through. Some of these challenges were a result of deliberate State plan to exclude these people perceived as the enemy within. It looks like the mistrust is still there and there is feeling by some in government that the northern parts of Kenya are not part of the country.
In the long run, the divisive nature of sharing revenue will have ramifications for the cohesion of this country. I am therefore surprised that the top leadership has not intervened. This is a matter of national unity, economic and social progress of the country. The revenue sharing proposal by CRA does not make sense at all. Isiolo County, for example, will lose the entire development budget under this new formula. Then what is the purpose of devolution if a county cannot undertake any development activities.
Deep inside, I have a feeling there is a plan to kill devolution altogether. Devolution was mainly intended to reverse inequity in the country. After all, most of the government development spending, about 85 per cent of the budget, is invested outside the poorer parts of northern Kenya. If the CRA formula is adopted, I suspect Kenya will never be the same again. People of these vast arid parts of Kenya will be mourning for many years just like during the Shifta wars. Is that what we want?
Mr Guleid, former deputy governor of Isiolo County, is CEO of FCDC Secretariat