Leaders 'poverty of ambition' to blame for Western's stagnation

National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya. [File, Standard]

The emerging feud between National Assembly Speaker Moses Wetang’ula and Trans Nzoia Governor George Natembeya brings to the surface more than merely a clash of ideologies and perspectives.

It is partly a supremacy battle over the Bukusu Nation vision bearer and the unchartered future of a region that has for the longest time faced stagnation and elite capture.

For any keen reader of Western Kenya socio-political and economic history, one can see a string of failed investment opportunities and a litany of missed opportunities.

While there is an opportunity for mediation to bridge the differences between the two leaders, such efforts need to bring into focus three often neglected realities. The poverty of ambition among leaders in the larger Western region, the trivialisation of economic advancement and the mainstreaming of brawl-level politics.

Since the onset of devolution in 2013, the cumulative government capitation that has been dispensed to the five Western counties – Trans Nzoia, Bungoma, Busia, Kakamega and Vihiga – and 38 constituencies pales in comparison with the quality and dignity of life that residents face on a daily basis. The cumulative amounts dispensed through the CDF from 2003 to 2023 hardly compare with the alarming household poverty experienced by residents with staggering handout ratio per person.

The Kibaki and Uhuru regimes favoured Western and particularly Bungoma and Trans Nzoia counties in key Cabinet positions and across several State agencies. However, a drive from Eldoret either to Trans Nzoia or to Bungoma reveals poverty of ambition in the midst of agricultural and industrial potential.

The only thing that elected and nominated political leaders have constantly rehearsed over and over is the fate of Nzoia Sugar, Mumias and Pan Paper. Yet, evidence from diverse State agencies and economic research institutes show that sugar and paper in their old production model cannot compete favourably in the present global market.

None of the elected leaders has managed to establish any viable cottage industry to provide employment to locals. None of the elected leaders runs a viable charitable foundation that funds any university for research or even advances scholarships to students to pursue studies in Ivy schools akin to the Equity Bank Wings to Fly Programme. Simply put, the leadership crisis among elected leaders across Western, past and present, is the poverty of ambition to advance collectively citizens and voters and to ensure that the status quo remains as is.

Where poverty of ambition thrives, economic advancement is trivialised by the politics of ego, jesting and sabotage. Interviews with most of the advisers of elected leaders often are punctuated by undercutting fellow politicians.

Business owners are often inundated by chill calls and subtle threats from politicians to be cut to size if they try and establish any meaningful projects that will embarrass the present political class who are doing nothing. It has become fashionable and common for funerals to turn into popularity contests, yet there is no established economy based on elaborate funerals as culture dictates.

Western does not boast of the highest number of qualified pathologists, forensic experts, funeral homes and event planners. Most of these skills are obtained from other counties and yet after one spends a fortune on logistics, the likelihood of the funeral being disrupted by feuding politicians is a constant worry of the bereaved.

The undercutting and politics of brawling has led to zero agenda every time the President visits the region as advance teams cannot sit down and align with local politicians on what the President should focus on.

The proposals from the leadership, comprising both senior ranking civil servants and elected leaders, are often disjointed, bereft of a value chain approach and steeped in low-key rivalry that it becomes often hard to put a finger on what should be prioritised in Western Kenya despite its geo-strategic location, abundance of rain and food and friendly and pleasant people.

Mr Wanyonyi is a security and media affairs researcher