For a couple of weeks, the national conversation has been on the conflict in northern Kenya. The conflict is not new in our history and so before we forget and move on to another phase, it is important to continue with this conversation.
One of the sources of the conflict among the pastoral communities has been identified as marginalisation that we have over the years failed to deal with. This has left many people, especially the youth hopeless and vulnerable to incitement hence drawing into criminal activities.
It is thus commendable that President Kenyatta has proposed, to set up a National Youth Service (NYS) camp and enlist the youth from this region.
This is an important move that calls for the support of all peace loving Kenyans, especially residents of this region that many are now referring to as the ‘Wild West’.
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Youth from the Turkana, Samburu and Pokot communities do not get equal opportunities as their counterparts in other parts of the country. This is partly to do with the cultural practices and due to neglect from the country’s as well as the region’s leadership.
As has been witnessed in other areas such as central Kenya which suffered under the hands of the Mungiki and the Coastal region that saw the Mombasa Republican Council (MRC) cause havoc in the past, youth in northern Kenya are vulnerable. Therefore, any effort aimed at correcting this situation as has been done with MRC and Mungiki is welcome.
Beyond the initiative announced by the President, we must draw up a long-term plan of dealing with this menace.
It is important that the President initiates formation of a joint task force of local leaders from the political, professional, religious and community circles to come up with such a plan. It is time we came up with a peace, recovery and development programme aimed at ensuring that we safeguard the lives of innocent Kenyans who are suffering in the north.
And this should not only be an ad hoc arrangement, but also one anchored in a legal framework to safeguard it from abuse. Coming up with a common plan to deal with the conflict in the north is therefore everyone’s business in achieving a common goal.
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It is probably at a time like this that we even deliberately studied the Karamoja Integrated Disarmament and Development Programme (KIDDP) of Uganda.
As we all know, after years of conflict, KIDDP is restoring the dignity of the residents of Karamoja. With great progress made in its goal to contribute to human security and promote conditions of recovery and development in Karamoja, KIDDP is a clear example of a comprehensive strategy to deal with a challenge.
Karamoja has seen great progress in terms of agriculture, education, health, roads and water and can easily be replicate in our situation.
The Ugandan government and the local Karamoja leadership made a deliberate step to deal with perennial conflict and now the residents are enjoying the fruits of these efforts. Putting politics and other selfish interests aside, we can as a country address the situation that we are facing in the north.
This will help us not only aid the residents but also see renewed interests in the area for development purposes. Remember the President set a condition for the setting up of the NYS camp in the North Rift; there must be peace and no tribal discrimination.
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You can imagine what a group of 10,000 youth trained in different skills can do in a region that has only seen its young people wander in the wilderness and get involved in cattle rustling.
These youth can construct homes and industries in the region, uplift their lives and those of the community at large.
Their services can be used to set up irrigation schemes, slaughter houses and enhance economic activities in the region, keeping them away from guns and conflict. The conflict in the north has existed since independence and therefore we cannot expect it to end in a day or a week. It may take many years for us to achieve the results, but every step of the envisaged reconstruction matters.
My proposal is that with the guidance of the President, who clearly wants to see our people develop, we come up with a clear road map that has short-term, medium-term and long-term goals that are not only regionally-based, but which are aligned to the country’s goals and aspirations. The north will not see peace unless we come up with a clear plan that involves everyone.
Having been a part of the professionals who previously worked on the plan for opening up secured roads, shared watering points and education, it is important to mention that the communities too have to accept to integrate with each other just like in other parts of the country.
When former President Kibaki was Finance Minister he demonstrated goodwill by allocating money to restoration of the north.
However, the money did not go to one basket as we had proposed, but rather to different ministries and follow up became difficult.
That was the last we heard of this noble idea. President Kenyatta has an opportunity to leave a legacy together with the Governors and all the leadership of these areas by decisively dealing with this menace.
The writer is a nominated Senator and a peace ambassador