By Mohamed Haji
Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC) is an organization that aims to unite and promote collaboration between the Northern Counties. Managed by a secretariat headed by the deputy governor of Isiolo HE Mohamed Guled this is not only an idea whose time has come but actionable project with the potential to turn our counties into hubs of excellence and economic super-house.
It may turn our decrepit counties into a Northern powerhouse. It is time the Northern Counties punched their own weight. Given our history of marginalization, shameful government investment over the decades and current predicament, it is risky to assume that we can achieve considerable economic transformation as individual counties. Despite the visible inter and intra community challenges, we have more that unites us than divides us.
The unfortunate unfolding state of our security affairs and the dearth of quality services in the region is only an indication of the dire need for cooperation and collaboration. A partnership that turns the North into an oasis of peace where hopes are built could be in the offing.
As the region mourns the destruction of its institutions and the death of talent through terror and under investment, it is partnerships like this that will lift its spirit and keep a shameful legacy at bay. It is through strategic partnerships like this, we can achieve more than we aspire to when each of us works independently. We must act as cooperative partners not as distrustful rivals to unlock our potential, promote job creation and address infrastructural challenges.
The notion that the North can turn into a powerhouse in a relatively short period of time is not farfetched. In 1880 USA was almost treated as a second-rank power. When Turkey opted to reduce its diplomatic establishment around the world, one of the embassies it selected to close was its US embassy.
A Germany diplomat in Spain offered to take a salary cut rather than posted to Washington! This seems inconceivable in today’s USA but rings a bell. We must be encouraged by this history. As recently happened in Nairobi, some central government employees opt to leave service or opt for a salary cut rather than work in the northern outposts. From a backwater banana case the northern counties could turn into a powerhouse that could at least exercise muscular diplomacy and play an important role in the country and wider region. It is within reach and all we need to guide against is turning the idea into a sound-bite designed to seduce dullards to siphon resources.
Among the many challenges the region faces, it is the absence of infrastructure, youth unemployment, clan conflicts and general underdevelopment that stand out. All these challenges and the many more we face are linked. They are the result of deep, intractable and economic issues which the government has a duty to address. It is important to get under the skin of the issues. Conflicts are escalating and hampering much anticipated development for many reasons among which the diminishing role of traditional governance system is chief.
Our well established and very successful traditional conflict resolutions mechanism must be revived. The modern court system has proven to be inadequate and is anyway absent from local reach. Implementation of its resolutions has not been found to be of much use to the wider warring groups. It is riddled with shattering shortcomings and viewed with suspicion by locals.
A long period of transition that was required to prepare these communities for an alternative system of justice has not happened. The chief justice acknowledges the very vital role played by the traditional informal court systems which have worked for the communities of this region for centuries but lacking is the solid support from governments of all levels.
Government is not always the solution. It could sometimes be the problem but has vital role to play in setting directions and guiding processes. We urge our leaders to pay critical attention to these, encourage and support traditional governance systems and, maybe, subordinate the modern justice system to our existing traditional justice arrangements to stem the growing clan conflicts and promote peace.
Infrastructure of which roads are chief is the be all and the end all of our economic progress. Without a decent tarmacked road that connects the northern counties, it will be an uphill task to achieve any economic improvement as markets remain locked and goods and services go to waste. Excellent transport system must better link up the individual cities and towns in the North, to allow them to function as a single economy and be stronger than the sum of their parts.
Building such an infrastructure is as easy as it is expensive. Road building is still a national government function but given the track record of the national government’s investment in the region, it will be a tall order to expect good roads any time soon. All things remaining equal, it will take billions to build a decent road that connects the counties of Isiolo, Tana River, Garissa, Wajir, Mandera, Lamu and Marsabit. The combined devolved budget of these counties is about 50 billion shillings. The projected return on this investment is in the region of 150 billion shillings.
It is no-brainer that these counties should cooperate and urgently embark on the construction of such roads. The fallacy that individual counties will build feeder roads and expect the connection between the major cities to happen is a joke. I wonder who these feeder roads will feed. It is like building a ditch around your city and expecting others to build the bridges. The coalition government turned some of our military airstrips into a so-called ‘’international airports’’! Ostensibly to ease the transportation of miraa! How many people from the counties will visit international cities? Negligible. How many can afford to take a plane? Very few. How many can transport their goods and services by air? Almost none. Why then are we hell-bent on building an economy for a very few rich individuals instead of prioritizing roads and opening markets for a vast number of our people and their goods and services?
Breaking from the vicious cycle of underdevelopment and the yoke of suffocated markets, counties need to urgently come and work together. Given the biting shortages of professionals we could collaborate through staff re-balancing between the various county schools and health centers. Some counties are less populated than others and re-balancing of the teacher-student ratio or the doctor-patients ratio would go a long way improving learning and health of our populations. Some funding may be allocated to this facilitation by individual counties depending on need.
Mandera has 10 times the population of Lamu according to the last census and one way cooperation will benefit us is by cross transfer of professionals between the two counties according to need. The recommended teacher-pupil ratio is about 1:30, Mandera’s teacher-pupil ratio is 1:68 and this is before the exodus of non-local teachers from the NEP. Lamu’s teacher-pupil ratio is about 1:40, not a pretty picture but much better than in Mandera and the two counties will benefit from each other until a more viable solution is found. The bottom line, cooperation between the Northern counties is long overdue. Quangos such as the FCDC mooted and spearheaded by Deputy Governor Guled should be mandated to coordinate and promote pooling of resources in partnership with national and international players. This may be the first salvo towards our infrastructural salvation.
Our regions have various unique features that need exploited for the benefit of its populations and it is when we partner and join hands that better exploitative measures of these potentials can be put in place.
It is only through collaborations like this that our comparative advantages can be reinforced and competitive edge exploited to foster greater regional development.
Haji is a social commentator and Nepjournal columnist. Follow him on twitter @MWhaji or contact him on his Email: firstname.lastname@example.org