Wajir — As Kenya approaches the transition to a devolved system of government, stakeholders in North Eastern Province say the new structure will help local leaders prioritise development and diversify the province's mostly pastoral-based economy.
Khalif Abdi Farah, executive director of Northern Forum for Democracy, said the central government in the past had developed good policies to improve the economy in the province, but their implementation fell short.
"In 2003, the government launched the Economic Recovery Programme for North Eastern Province that would have propelled the region to faster economic growth and poverty reduction," Farah told Sabahi. Under these policies, development projects were controlled at the national level, offering little flexibility for local governments.
"The programme intended to address the poor infrastructure in the region as part of achieving those goals, but 10 years later the infrastructure is still poor," he said.
Under the re-organisation stipulated by the 2010 constitution, the country's eight provinces will be replaced with 47 county administrations. County administrations will act as the second tier of government under the central government after the country elects a new president and parliament in March.
Under the new system, counties will be allocated money directly, offering local governments an opportunity to shape their own destinies by prioritising key projects to achieve economic independence, Farah said.
For example, he said, projects to improve the province's infrastructure could be prioritised to open up the local economy to the rest of the country and provide a significant return on initial investments. "Proper infrastructure will be able to ease transportation of the available resources and even attract more investors in the region," he said.
While de-centralisation will be good for developing the economy, the central government will still have to maintain control of the security threats posed by al-Shabaab, Farah said.
"The militants have carried out terror attacks mostly in this region, and the devolved system of government will need much help before [local governments] can stand on their own," he said.
Communities must diversify to survive
With many pastoralists losing livestock to intermittent droughts in the province, programmes to diversify and develop the economy in those communities should be a top priority for the new local governments, Minister of State for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands Mohamed Ibrahim Elmi said.
Local governments will need to work with the national government and development partners to fund educational programmes and promote self-reliance through entrepreneurial skills, Elmi told Sabahi.
"I have perused most of the manifestos of the candidates vying for the local seats and virtually all of them are promising to strengthen or construct more skills-based colleges, even in villages," he said. "That is a good starting point."
Besides promising to diversify development of economic sectors, candidates are vowing to strengthen livestock production, veterinary medicine and marketing, he said. The new government should also implement policies to reduce reliance on food aid, which has become a permanent fixture in the province, Elmi said.
"For years the people have been fed on the proverbial fish, but the new government is expected to show the people how to fish," he said.
Alternative income generators
Ali Ibrahim Roba, an aspirant for the gubernatorial seat in Mandera County, said pastoral communities in North Eastern Province would be self-sufficient once they learn how to use available resources efficiently.
"To depend entirely on livestock has proven a dangerous trend," he told Sabahi. "Livestock is supposed to supplement other livelihood."
The new local government will need to provide training and equipment to residents to encourage the maximum exploitation of available resources, as well as to introduce herders who have lost their animals to alternative income-generating ventures, such as farming, he said.
Each county has natural resources that the devolved government will be able to help develop, he said, citing Wajir County's raisins and gum arabic trees, and Mandera County's abundance of limestone.
"There are pastoralists who have been leading a sedentary lifestyle since they lost their livestock and they will need to be targeted," Roba said.
Wajir resident Mohammed Yunis Nunow, 48, said he is looking forward to seeing how governments closer to the community will provide services.
"I lost my 80 livestock to drought in 2006 and 2010," Nunow said. "I have wanted to venture into bee-keeping, but I have yet to find an institution in Wajir that can impart that knowledge."
He said he hopes the new county government will fulfil demands for vocational training colleges for former herders. "There is life beyond pastoralism, but we need a little prepping to see the opportunities that are available," he said.