North poised for political rebirth or is regional caucus same same old?

North poised for political rebirth or is regional caucus same same old?

National Treasury and Planning Cabinet Secretary Ukur Yatani flanked by Northern Kenya Leaders’ Forum at the Serena Hotel, on September 2, 2021.

Photo credit: Jeff Angote | Nation Media Group

As the countdown to the 2022 elections nears, there has been upsurge of political realignments as leaders jostle for coalitions. The recent scramble for the northern Kenya vote has elicited much political activity in Marsabit, Isiolo and Mandera counties, with leaders from the region calling for the backing of the new Upya caucus led by National Treasury CS Ukur Yatani, Education CAS Hassan Noor Hassan and Jubilee Parliamentary Group secretary Adan Keynan, all pro-‘Handshake’.

In every ethnic group in the country are deep-seated political interests, which at every election drive party fidelity. Leaders from the traditionally marginalised north have started a regional consciousness conversation targeting at least 15 arid and semi-arid lands (ASAL) counties in forming the political vehicle as a negotiation platform.

Agitators for an ASAL political formation say the region will actively engage in national politics for the interest of pastoralist communities. Recently, more than 40 leaders from the ASALs unveiled a grassroots political movement to galvanise the region behind the Handshake partners.

Yatani and Noor led the team in announcing the formation of Upya Movement to champion the political aspirations of the region and rally residents behind president Kenyatta and ODM party leader Raila Odinga.

Recently, Mr Yatani led campaign rallies in Moyale and Garissa with the Azimio La Umoja brigade where Mr Odinga called for a unified north. The caucus is putting up a spirited bid to solidify northern Kenya behind President Uhuru Kenyatta and Mr Odinga.

Will the political outfit save the north from its longstanding economic woes? Maybe, but of importance to the region is the biting drought situation, which needs a holistic policy approach, and the need to push for the passage of the shelved Disaster Risk Management (DRM) Bill and an amendment to the Vet Act that has delt a blow to the ASAL’s livestock sector. These should have been apriority for the pastoralist legislators.

ASAL leaders ought to prioritise and lobby likeminded leaders in passing the Equalization Fund before the Senate. The passage of these bills, which have been gathering dust on the shelves of the Presidency, will put in place a national drought mitigation authority to address the cyclic droughts in the north.

Shackles of neglect

The Upya caucus also need to address a myriad other challenges the north faces. For instance, thousands of youths lack national identity (ID) cards; hence, many high school leavers cannot join university, get a job or register as voters. With the vital document delaying for years, the President recently formed a committee to resolve the issue.

The north has been tagged as a ‘swing region’ for votes, which leaders are trying to negotiate as a bloc. In the recent past, clan-based ‘negotiated democracy’ has created deep mistrust amongst pastoralists and Upya is widely seen as a remedy to the ills.

Will the north break free of the shackles of neglect through Upya?

The region’s voice need to be heard in the form of a political movement and break away from the fragmentation caused by the divisive clan-based politics. There is a need for a political paradigm shift and shunning of tribal politics. Will embracing Upya see the region move ahead with other regions politically and no longer be he wreckage that was left behind as others matched forward?

Upya is sending political waves across the region. Hopefully, that could see political leaders from the north shrug off divisive politics and embrace the movement if it will change the political direction and narrative of the pastoralist counties for the better.

With the death of clan-based ‘negotiated democracy’ , which took root since 2013, due to political mistrust and heightened clan conflict, will Upya remedy the ills of clan political dynamics and conflict in the region?

It will be a litmus test for the caucus as it rallies northern Kenya to a new political formation— unlike the erstwhile political appendage that it has been at every election.

Mr Adankhalif, a disaster risk management consultant, is an aspiring MP.