Devolution sparks magic as Mandera rises from neglect

One of the farms under irrigation in Mandera County.  [PHOTOS: DAVID OHITO/STANDARD]


Mandera, Kenya: The story of Mandera County is compellingly unique. Marginalised by the colonial administration and neglected by successive independence regimes, it is now reaping from devolution.

Mandera is a story from bad to great. Very shocking statistics tell the tale of a resilient people who rarely benefitted from the tenures of Jomo Kenyatta, Daniel Moi and Mwai Kibaki in terms of revenue allocation and development projects.

To the ordinary Kenyan, Mandera is the epitome of violence, the home of al-Shabaab and an area plagued by inter-clan violence and, of course, the cyclic story of drought, famine and hunger stricken villagers dying of thirst, just like their animals.

Mandera has been in the news literally for all the wrong reasons. Bloodbath among clans, dying animals in severe drought, violent militia attacks from across it porous borders with both Somalia and Ethiopia.

Mandera unashamedly holds arguably the world’s worst mortality rate. It is Kenya’s riskiest place to give birth with 3,795 out of every 100,000 women dying annually. County Woman Representative Fathia Mahbub describes the area as a death trap for women.

“We have no roads and when a woman is in labour, the only means of transport is a ramshackled lorry, a camel or donkey to ferry her to a dispensary 200 kilometres away. Many women opt to deliver in Manyattas in unhygienic conditions, even without water. That is how bad it has been,” says Mahbub.

“For the Mandera woman, even water for showering is a luxury. We fetch it for our children’s survival and the county regime is now addressing our concerns.”

Ms Mahabub is the first elected woman in the county. Its leaders spoke passionately this week amid turbulence being witnessed in the teething stages of devolution countrywide, that unlike other counties, they finally have a say over projects and development planning and can even decide their destiny.

The leadership speaks in unison,“It is devolution or revolution”.

“The amount of money Mandera County has been allocated in one year of devolved system of government is more than what it received as a district since independence,” says Governor Ali Ibrahim Roba.

“Ours has been systematic marginalisation of 50 years-plus. The first three regimes viewed Mandera from security lenses and all finances directed here went towards a handful civil servants and security operations.”

Like most parts of North Eastern Province (NEP), the region is fondly described by civil servants and workers posted there as “nothing except problems”.  It is perceived as a punishment when one is transferred to work in the region.

“Devolution has given the counties an upper hand in building and re-establishing public services institutions which is about rebuilding relationships at all levels,”says Roba.

Today, the town and county which was billed as insecure, is arguably much safer than Kenya’s capital, Nairobi. Mandera East MP Abdulaziz Farah says: “I feel much safer in Mandera Town than in Nairobi, which is uncertain. There has been no terrorist attack in Mandera unlike in Garissa and Nairobi and we plead with the media to spare us this negative publicity”.

Through Kenya Police Reserve, the county government has deployed about 200 security officers who supplement the disciplined officers from national security agencies. No major significant security breaches have been reported over the last one year. Through the input of elders jointly with the political leadership, inter-clan clashes have been diffused and the fights between Garre and Degodia clans ceased.

Mandera is largely a pastoralist community but there’s been limited support from the central government.

“The last animal census conducted in Mandera was in 1969.  To date nobody has any statistics on how many animals are in this area nor what the diseases associated with our animals are. But even human census ran into trouble after the government disputed figures which its officers posted from the ground provided ,” Roba says.

“Mandera County has been allocated Sh6.5 billion in the 2013-2014 financial year, a tranche the leadership in the areas has described as God-sent and far much than the old district received in 50 years.”

 Senator Billow Kerrow argues that with good planning and priority being given to vulnerable areas, the county has managed to address insecurity, food shortage and water scarcity. “We cannot allow anybody to try and interfere with devolution after 50 years of trauma and marginalisation. The difference we have seen cannot be compared to what we underwent through a centralised system of leadership,” he says.

Mandera West MP Mohammed Mohamud traces the problem of the county to sessional Paper no 10 of 1965 (by Finance Minister Tom Mboya) which prescribed that resources would be allocated and concentrated on productive areas of Kenya and particularly along the railway line.

Eng Mohamud argues that Mandera is a high potential area and with inclusive leadership, peaceful co-existence and addressing food and water shortage, it has the ability to rise from ruins to success in a short time.

 “Devolution is our only hope. We are finally in control of our destiny and we must support all efforts to succeed. We got very scanty resources over the years and now it is a new dawn,” he says.