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County leaders are indulging in incest by locking out ‘outsiders’

By - | June 30th 2013

A famous African man said: “When a jigger is wriggling in your small toe, your buttock does not sleep because it is fat.” Sorry, it wasn’t Chinua Achebe or Ngugi wa Thiong’o who said that — I just made it up. County politicians may want to spare a moment to think about that jigger because they are all getting into this ‘me’ mindset. They want to hoard the resources in their small counties for ‘their people’. Unfortunately, Kenya is like a human body and no part, however well endowed, can function effectively without the other.

Four examples suffice. One is the assertion by Tana River Governor Hussein Dado that he will not allow the central government to irrigate one million acres of land in Tana River because the land is a county asset. “We shall not take the issue lightly,” he warns darkly. There is one problem, though. The land in Tana River may be a county asset but who owns River Tana? Tana’s waters originate in the Aberdares, meander through Meru and Bisanadi National Parks and Garissa before getting to Tana River County laden with silt eroded from other counties. If the communities upstream kill your river, Bwana Governor, you will be controlling unfertile ‘assets’ without a drop of water.

Besides, your county doesn’t have the capacity to initiate and run a project of that magnitude, and you know it. You probably fear, and with good reason, that ‘your people’ will not benefit, but the truth is that there is enough for everyone.

The second example has to do with plans to construct a dam on River Nzoia to control the perennial floods in Budalang’i. People of Trans Nzoia won’t hear of that ‘useless’ dam because apart from not benefitting them, it will lead to the destruction of 4,000 hectares of their fertile land. As far as they are concerned, the people of Budalang’i can dive into the nearest flooded pond.

And in Kiambu, when Governor William Kabogo unveiled his Cabinet, there was a hue and cry about his nominees for the Finance and Planning dockets. Predictably, those opposed to Ms Mary Nguli and Eunice Kaloki didn’t cite integrity or competence issues. Their only grouse was that the two are ‘outsiders’. Yes, communities want their ‘own’ to eat and will not allow ‘outsiders’, however qualified, to participate in the management of their counties. You wouldn’t find a more myopic view.

Finally, from Kakamega, Governor Wycliffe Oparanya wants the government to cede all its shareholding in Mumias Sugar Company to the county government.  But the good governor might want to reflect on what would ensue if the Turkana County Governor demanded that government cedes all its shareholding in Turkana’s oilfields to the county government.

It’s not just these four counties, though. All county governments are proving to be terribly inward looking. The whispered word is that other communities must be kept at bay; that all businesses opportunities in the county must be given to locals.  Proponents of this sort of thinking forget that our illiterate forefathers banned marriage among even the distantly related. Once in a while, they would raid enemy tribes and kidnap young women. They were avoiding incest, strengthening the clan and giving it vitality through infusion of new DNA.  But because of our dubious political history, we naively believe that another community living in out midst can only be an exploiter. We are like the selfish mother who warns her child against bringing his little pals home because they will ‘finish the food’. What she forgets is that playmates move from house to house eating bits of this and that and end up with a balanced diet — and life-long friends.

Governors should, therefore, remember that Nairobi is not Kenya’s richest county merely because it is the seat of government. Nairobi buzzes with life because it is a melting pot of different cultures. It is fired by the Somali hawking belts in Eastleigh, the Indian dukawalla in Ngara, the mzungu exporting Samburu beads from Karen, the Kikuyu man roasting mutura, the Luo mechanic, the Maasai herdsman, the Luhya watchman, the Nigerian hustler, the Ugandan wife, the decadent tourist — you name it. 

Has Governor Dado imagined what the ‘outsiders’ that the multi-shilling irrigation project will bring can teach his people? Hasn’t it occurred to Kiambu politicians that those two fine ladies who are ‘outsiders’ will bring fresh experiences into their county Cabinet principally because they were raised elsewhere?

Rwanda is richer because it hires highly qualified East Africans. The United States is wealthier and more innovative because of its immigrants. But North Korea is dirt poor because it is an insular threat-spewing silly little tyrant. The uplifting story of Jackson Nyambega, which was published recently in our sister publication, The County Weekly, is the best way to sum this up. The graduate clothes seller’s business in Homabay was in dire straits when he told off fellow mitumba sellers who were mistreating Joseph Karanja because he was an ‘outsider’. Karanja was so delighted that he lent Nyambega Sh10,000, which he used to increase his stock. Today, Nyambega owns three clothing stalls and a screen-printing business. He also supplies uniforms in many schools in Homabay District and employs a handful of people. Need we say more?

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