By Dr. Billow Khalid:
As we all know, Kenya has 47 counties, courtesy of the 2010 Constitution of the Republic. Out of the 47, some 14 counties are relatively poorer than the rest. These 14 counties include all those of the so called Frontier Region – Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Isiolo and Marsabit. Others include those in the Nation’s coastal region such as Kwale and Kilifi counties.
Debate has arisen as to whether these poorer counties can catch up with those who are more developed within relatively short time or even close the development gap. Some observers argue that regional socio-economic inequalities are a universal phenomenon. It isn’t unique to Africa. Different nations address these problems differently. Nevertheless, the pessimists in our case argue that factors hindering the economic transformation of these poorer Kenyan counties are too overwhelming to be easily overcome in three or so generations.
The major challenges cited in this regard include:
- Poor climate,
- Lousy geographical location.
- Resource curse- having too many livestock and other resources that make people lazy, and conflict prone.
- Highly ethnicised and divided communities which renders them hard to manage the principles of modern democracy and nationhood to thrive.
- Having low quality institutions and staffing.
- People having bad culture; people do not work harder, do not promote education, and rarely cooperate with one another for a cause.
- Historical factors such as low educational levels, marginalization and poor infrastructure.
- And finally as a national Frontier, having bad, restless neighborhoods.
These eight challenges are surely formidable. But they are not insurmountable by any focused and determined group of people as it emerged in numerous forums such as the one recently organized in November this year by KEPSA or Kenya Private Sector Alliance in Mombasa. This is an Alliance of business organizations with membership of about 100,000 businesses. The theme and title of their pre-election conference was ” Leadership Summit: Competitiveness, Nationhood and Peaceful Elections”.
These challenges notwithstanding, the poorer counties are destined for economically brighter future. They have what it takes to catch up with rest of the country. They have massive land, small manageable population, good entrepreneurial culture, educated homegrown manpower, supportive constitutional structures with the necessary budgetary allocations, and the experiences of other successful counties to learn from.
Nationhood demands what the French say “The art of turning peasants into Frenchmen”. Making patriotic Kenyans out of our pastoralists is not mean effort but it is doable. To overcome the challenges facing these poorer counties simply require better infrastructure, financing, superior organizational skills and leadership and highly improved political institutions.
In order to address these requirements, Kenya’s “Big Bang version” of Devolution was born. Thus the demand for Peaceful elections, 2017. Only then shall we have solid ‘Nationhood, and Competitive business environment to talk about and brighter future for All Kenyans.
The challenge is on our elites everywhere. Wish you all a golden, most fruitful year, 2017.