• Cumulatively, each county has received over Sh100 billion from the national government alone over the last decade in equitable county allocation.
• This is beside the Equalisation Fund, which is almost tailor-made for the Asals, the conditional grants and other direct funding from independent donors and sponsors.
There is an obvious ongoing scramble for political loyalty in the country.
The rate at which hitherto political disciples of former Prime Minister Raila Odinga and those of President William Ruto are outdoing each other at exhibiting steady or shifting loyalty to or from the two principals is too loud to ignore.
What is not so obvious, however, is whether it is the two big boys are scrambling to attract smaller boys and girls or they are scrambling to get the attention of the big boys and feed on the attendant crumbles at the high table.
We have seen delegations of MPs, especially from regions considered opposition bedrocks, dining in State House and then struggling to give excuses for the visits to a sulking party leadership. We have also seen those not invited shouting how the visitors are traitors to the party leader and a course that is not so clear. Then we have seen those in the ruling coalition —those who consider themselves real shareholders in government — fidgeting and getting uncomfortable whenever the outsiders look like they are getting close the centre of power.
Lately, it is the governors who are looking quite under siege. Those elected on the ruling coalition seem to be seeking special treatment from the state, while those allied to the opposition are struggling not to be seen to be sleeping with the government. They are also fearing attending the famed mass action rallies advocated by their coalition leadership because they could be profiled for victimisation and miss out on personal profiteering and future benefits associated with alignment.
That is politics.
What should not be politics, though, are the lives of the people these leaders represent and manage.
Millions of Kenyans are staring at starvation, bandits are reigning terror in parts of the country and the cost of living is at an all time high. It is at times like this that real leadership is needed. Trooping to State House or shouting loyalty to the opposition are not characteristics of that leadership.
The Arid and semi-arid lands regions seem to be the most affected by the ongoing food shortage and insecurity in the country. And it is not just now. It has been this way for a long time and the government has all along been accused, historically, of marginalizing the region. Inasmuch as this might have been an acceptable excuse in the past, it does not hold water any more.
The problems of Asals are known. The courses of the problems are also known. We all know that the main definition of Asals and the mother of all their problems is their aridity level. The annual rainfall, one that has repeated itself for 60 years, is insufficient to support “normal” life.
The Department for Asals and Regional Development under the Ministry of East African Community, the Asals and Regional Development describes the conglomeration of concerned counties as “The defining feature of Arid and Semi-Arid Lands (Asals) is their aridity levels.
The annual rainfall ranges between 150 mm to 550 mm for arid areas and between 550 mm to 850 mm for semi-arid areas per year. Temperatures in arid areas are high throughout the year, with high rates of evapo-transpiration”
It’s disheartening that over six decades after the country attained independence, very little has been done to offer solutions to problems that hardly change. Granted, the national government presided over by the first three presidents of independent Kenya did almost nothing in making Asals comfortably habitable. The residents of these lands had a right to complain of marginalization. But repeating the sulking now is tantamount to crying over spilt milk. Because things have changed and changed for the better!
Since the advent of devolution over a decade ago, and the introduction of the Constituency Development Fund slightly earlier, the blame for underdevelopment and poor living conditions is more on the local leadership than the national government.
Cumulatively, each county has received over Sh100 billion from the national government alone over the last decade in equitable county allocation. This is beside the Equalisation Fund, which is almost tailor-made for the Asals, the conditional grants and other direct funding from independent donors and sponsors.
A billion shillings is quite some money, Sh100 billion is money that should change the lives and livelihoods of a county and its residents in a way that one who has been away for a decade should be able to a notice from a thousand miles away.
In the six counties that were recently declared “disturbed and dangerous” by Interior CS Kindiki Kithure, nothing much has changed over the past decade.
A visitor to Turkana, West Pokot, Elgeyo Marakwet, Baringo, Laikipia and Samburu today is likely to experience the same hardships residents were experiencing 20 years ago. The same conditions prevail in the undisturbed and yet to be declared dangerous Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Marsabit, Isiolo, Lamu, Tana River, Taita-Taveta, Kilifi, Kwale, Embu, Kitui, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Nyeri, Machakos, Makueni, Kajiado, Narok, Migori and Homa Bay.
Only one thing stands out in these counties that was not evident in the pre-devolution era: There are more high-end vehicles plying the few new roads that the national government has put up over the years and a handful of magnificent houses.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that new vehicles and homes are owned by the governors, deputy governors, MPs, senators, MCAs and top county government officials. In short, leaders in these counties have eaten almost all the Sh100 billion over the last decade. In the meantime, the residents have remained poor and have to look for alternatives such as like banditry and cattle rustling to continue surviving.
To change the situation in Asal counties, leaders need to look in the mirror and inside themselves. And not at State or Orange houses!