State must develop northern frontier to curb insecurity
The government must put its money where its mouth is and develop them.
- Northern Kenya may not be able to pay huge taxes now, but it may just end up giving Dubai a run for its money.
Lasting peace can come out of northern prosperity someday.
My maiden trip to Moyale pre-super highways was part travelled on the back of a lorry, which we shared with goats. Saying we smelled of goats’ urine once we disembarked is an understatement. The journey was arduous and long and the memory is still etched in my mind.
When I started working in Nairobi, I remember asking my boss once, with all the innocence in the world, why Marsabit did not have roads like those in Nairobi. Then, Marsabit would have welcomed even a replica of city roads, potholes and all. He said it was because ‘we’ did not pay taxes by which he meant the nomadic and pastoralist communities that inhabit the northern and upper eastern counties. At another time, following inter-tribal skirmishes, a colleague asked why ‘we’ fought all the time. I remember saying that it was because ‘we’ had no television. I was joking, but TV and, indeed, electricity were alien to most nomads and still are. I highlighted the lack of TV as a suggestion for distraction from violence.
Northern communities may not be in a position to raise that much revenue for the government or their counties, but it is no reason not to support development in the arid areas. Again, TV may not be widely available or even popular, but it would be a welcome relief as a crucial tool through which to preach peace. The popularity of such gadgets can only grow by increasing the purchasing power of the residents of the northern belt. The most crucial way of doing so is to support education programmes for nomadic children with a view to giving them a level playing field with other children from Kenya and indeed the world. As it is, many schools in the north are in dire straits. The few that have managed to do well have only done so with the support of churches and NGOs.
Insecurity has mostly been around feeding and watering grounds for animals. Pasture and water dwindle during drought, leading to further escalation of violence. There have been arguments as to whether nomadic way of life will be sustainable in the long run or not. Education will be key in mitigating insecurity and any shortfall in opportunities should the nomadic lifestyle prove unviable.
It will hopefully help future generations to handle the nomadic lifestyle in a more peaceful and prosperous way. Lack of education and limited opportunities expose communities to constant electoral abuse. Perennial inter-clan feuds are a fault-line that can be manipulated for political reasons.
By understanding the movement patterns of the nomadic communities, it should be easier to pre-empt any violence by providing security. It will also be prudent to curtail expansion of private conservancies encroaching on traditional feeding grounds for nomadic and pastoralist communities. Ranchers who occupy communal land must be prepared to share the resources. Nomads and pastoralists are here now and gone tomorrow. Denying them a chance to feed their animals when they are desperate is a recipe for violence as we have witnessed in the Laikipia plains.
Commercialisation of communal land will negatively affect many communities. Marginalised communities enjoy protection as stipulated in the Minorities’ Rights under the United Nations convention. Kenya is thus obligated to offer them both legal and de facto protection.
Fighting fire with fire in the belief that it will quell violence is misinformed. It has been tried for millennia and never bore fruit. What is important is to win the hearts and minds of the nomadic communities by understanding their ethnographic complexity. The State must never be swayed to lean on one side as it was recently alleged in Marsabit. That will only add fuel to the fire.
Some neighbouring countries have been at war and no doubt pose a serious threat to Kenya’s national security. The potential spillover of violence is a grave possibility as in the case of Somali’s Al-Shabaab. It is quite disturbing to witness that it is only in Northern Kenya that you see guns being carried openly in anticipation of attacks. Some of the weapons are legitimate, but illegal ammunition also seeps across the borders.
Letting arid areas lie fallow is stoking disaster for the country. Development of infrastructure from schools, hospitals to roads and industries will open up these areas and make them easier to manage over time. Many current strong economies in the Middle East sprang out of deserts. With political will, the success of the Kenya’s ‘desert’ counties will be within the realms of our reach.
The government must put its money where its mouth is and develop them. Northern Kenya may not be able to pay huge taxes now, but with good infrastructure and funding, it may just end up giving Dubai a run for its money. Lasting peace can come out of northern prosperity someday.
Ms Guyo is a legal researcher. [email protected]