The Star (Nairobi)

26 January 2013

Kenya: The Poverty Disconnect in the Rich and Bountiful Narok County

From a bowl of millet porridge for breakfast, to salad with finger-licking 'chapatis' for lunch and an evening of ugali special for dinner, no county can best provide this at source than Narok.

It's a wonderland, fondly referred to as Kenya's bread basket, boasting of the richest farmlands in the land. My county yields both cereal and cash crops, including wheat, barley, maize and succulent tomatoes consumed in and out of Nairobi.

Over the years, I have enjoyed the Rift Valley panorama, during hundreds of long rides over potholed and dusty roads to Narok. It is a two-hour drive from Nairobi.

Sometime back, I proudly watched the 'National Geographic' programme, crown Narok county, as the 'Seventh Wonder of the World.' It's here that one catches the best view of the wildebeest migration corridor.

The top tourist destination is home to Maasai Mara Game Reserve, the epitome of the world's diverse wildlife, renowned for showcasing; elephants, lions, cheaters, buffaloes, antelopes, hyenas, rhinos, leopards, wildebeest and all kind of birds among others at water points and other wildlife concentrated areas.

If you are planning for a well-deserved trip, the Mara reserve hosts top hotels, tented camps, airstrips and balloon safaris. The tourism sector has highly contributed to the economic standards of Narok through employment in the hotel industry, game ranging, revenue collection, beadwork, curio shops and cultural practices in the Manyattas among others.

The potential of tourism as a revenue stream in the county is often quoted in the range of Sh2.5 to Sh5 billion annually. There is a deeper issue here.

This potential has never been even remotely achieved and conservative figures available show the County Council of Narok has been collecting around Sh800 million to Sh950 million annually since 2003 to date.

It is correctly believed that the council is currently collecting and recording 25 per cent of the potential. The figures for Mara conservancy were not immediately available but a search on the net shows figures of Kenya shillings 500 million per year.

Unfortunately, over the years, the musings from my heart recognise public officials have benefitted from the natural resources meant for poor Narok residents.

Indeed lack of infrastructural networks, illiteracy and poor governance have formed a canopy over the unexploited market opportunities that exist for the residents of Narok county.

The World Bank economic investment analysis and recent media reports highlight the economic prowess of Narok county, placing it third only to Nairobi and Mombasa, with most of its resources untapped, leaving its residents mired in poverty and untimely deaths.

I ask, and what can the people of Narok do about our poverty amidst plenty.' This is in stuck contrast to the enormous natural resource potential in the county.

I became curious about the Narok residents poverty status and embarked on a journey to unwrap the county's terrain to find creative solutions to the apparent social justice problems.

The county is home to the once pristine Maasai Mau forest which forms part of the Mau complex ecosystem. It has a highest forest cover in the country.

The Maasai Mau forest is managed in trust by the local authority. Loita forest is another major forest in the county and is located at Loita division of Narok south district and spans an area of about 330 Sq km.

When it comes to wind and solar energy potential, the county enjoys long periods of sunshine and windy conditions that are suitable for solar and wind energy generation and the availability of appropriate technology to harvest these resources is the strategic initiative needed to realise the resource's potential.

A new wealth lies in the availability of minerals in Narok county. This provides a new front in the potential of natural resources. The mining of gemstones and sand stones pre-dominates the mining industry though the full extent of the county's wealth in minerals has not been established and a key strategic initiative should focus on undertaking surveys to confirm commercial viability of existing mineral resources including the reported gold deposits in Lolgorian in Trans Mara.

The whole talk about carbon credit is prevalent in news channels, and how this portends a new opportunity for engagement in the emerging markets of carbon trade and of particular interest is the process on Reduction of Emissions from Forest Degradation and Deforestation commonly referred to as REDD+.

This is a compensatory mechanism for conservation efforts funding, raising resources for the county. The current process to make legislation on climate change and the draft National Policy on Carbon Investment and Carbon Trading released in April 2011 among other internationally negotiated instruments will be the road maps to the realisation of the carbon trade and the promotion of adaptation and mitigation efforts that will be primary to the conservation of natural resources in the county and the country at large and that have adequate socio-cultural safeguards to local communities.

I believe that a healthy and well-educated citizenry working in a socio-politically, culturally and technologically enabling environment allows realisation of the citizenry full potential.

The performance of all other economic sectors is dependent on an educated and healthy population. The county has 53.7 per cent literacy rate with 0.4 per cent of the same having attained a university education.

Presently, Narok county (where public decision-making is still a predominantly male domain) women participation in governance at this high level is historical, transformative but equally challenging. Women from marginalised indigenous groups have multiple burdens. As I unwrap Narok, it is clear to me that there is much to be done.

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