Unflattering jokes about devolution in Kenya’s north, and the ‘exclusive clan zone’ factor

While decentralisation of resources has worked what can be described as miracles, leaders seem to have forgotten past ills perpetrated under Kanu, and are engaged in local marginalisation schemes of their own

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The water problem in Kenya's north persist, even when local leaders could easily mobilise resources to end it.
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By Fuad Abdirahman

Those in the know believe that the perpetration of widespread marginalisation of Kenya’s north by successive regimes since independence was motivated by Sessional Paper No. 10 of 1965 on African Socialism and its Applications to the Development of Kenya. The Paper ostensibly was created to give life to a call by President Jomo Kenyatta, to realise “rapid economic development and social progress for all our citizens”.

The Sessional Paper stated, “the development budget should be invested where it can result in the highest net output” – meaning areas that had great agricultural potential – putting to great disadvantage the former North Eastern Province, now split into the three counties of Garissa, Wajir and Mandera, which were seen as barren and therefore unsuitable for investment.

As a result, while other “more productive” regions continued to received infrastructural development, the north had to make do with camel tracks for roads; whereas the rest of Kenya developed educational facilities, the children of the north were forgotten – the few government teachers deployed there were few and soon most of those left, leaving schools to take in untrained teachers and secondary leavers; social amenities like health and sanitation were almost non-existent. As a result, the region became militarise, so that even with police being deployed, the citizens became a law unto themselves. Kenya’s north has witnessed historical injustices – land, military massacres and other forms of subjugation – on a scale no other region has, many of which are yet to be addressed.

When devolution came, it was hailed as a blessing and a dream come true, especially for the residents of the north. To them, a way had been found to finally end their problems. Today, having seen what the distribution of resources to the counties has done, some now say the system ought to be extended further.

Author and academic, Salah Abdi Sheikh, makes a suggestion some might consider radical.
“I propose that we move away from the current nusu mkate form of devolution to full federalism; that is what Kenya needs to fully realise tailor-made growth in different regions. Every public services, every government agency that provides public goods and services to the public should be devolved, from education, agriculture, commerce, policing, judiciary, and so on. Only two functions should remain national – the defence forces and foreign relations,” he says.

Salah explains that his proposal, while drastic, has the potential to cause socio-economic transformation that people in different regions can appreciate. According to him, the idea of a few individuals in national government deciding what policies work regions they have never even been to is absurd. In any event, Kenya has had over 50 years of that model, and it has not worked.

According to an unofficial audit report, the entire development budget for North Eastern Province between 1963 and 1992 was Sh180 million. In contrast, between 2013 and 2015, the three counties received an estimated Sh58 billion, more than 300 times the amount the region was allocated in 29 years under Kenyatta and Moi.

But with the increase in the amounts sent to the counties so far, so has graft; and the counties in the northern frontier have not been spared.

In a recent survey by the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission (EACC), Wajir county was ranked fifth (out of 47) in terms of amounts of bribes paid for services or favours. Mandera County had the highest figure in terms of bribes paid, averaging Sh80,000.

In Garissa, the EACC recommended prosecution of the governor over irregular leasing of ambulances. According the graft agency, seven county officials colluded with the governor to hire a single ambulance at the cost of Sh650,000 each; seven such vehicles were leased.
In Wajir, residents petitioned Senate to investigate the county over fund misappropriations, after which the governor was summoned to appear before Senators. After extensive grilling, the legislators arrived at the conclusion that money had been lost and made appropriate recommendations to the ODPP.

In April this year, the Wajir County government launched a psychiatric unit at the Wajir Referral Hospital, intended to cater to the many trauma victims of the Wagalla Massacre, as well as arising cases. Residents lauded its launch but some four months later, the unit collapsed with most of its beds transferred to other hospitals. Reportedly, it now has only one bed and 3 employees. “We have no personnel to take care of the patients, no beds for them and no money to run the centre,” an employee confided.

In Mandera, health may be devolved but with the maternal mortality ratio of 3,795 deaths per 100,000, it is among the highest in the country and globally. The reason is that the county has not been paying its doctors, who in turn decided to flee. Besides, clan-instigated wars, the end result being the upcoming election, has made the safety of county employees, particularly non-locals, very difficult.

Garissa residents have been quoted in media as saying they are forced to trek more than 10km from town to Tana River to fetch water, which has made some contemplate migrating to water-friendlier towns. In places like Ijara, the river is only 3 kilometres – still some distance – but there is no water treatment plant, which means residents have to make do with the untreated and therefore unsafe river water.

In an event to address the lack of water some time back, Abdirizack Mohamed, a resident, told the Water Services Regulatory Board that water problem began at the start of devolution, claiming that the local water company is fraught with corruption, as its officials only supply water to those who pay them directly. Mohamed suggested that the water function be under the national government, whose officials, he hoped, might not be too petty as to “follow the money to the counties”.

According to Salah what ails the three counties of NEP is the creation of an exclusive clan zone. “During the constituency boundary review, the people of the North engaged in gerrymandering, where boundaries were manipulated to accommodate clans.” As a consequence, the region has 18 members of parliament elected on clan basis.

“Our politicians and elites created constituency boundaries to suit themselves and created exclusive clan zones. I can tell you there are only three constituencies in the three counties by mixed (they don’t qualify to be called cosmopolitan) clans; Garissa Township, Wajir East and Mandera East,” Salah offers.

The clan issue has led to acute nepotism, which is felt across the counties, and favouritism. Word on the ground is that at one point when Wajir County advertised for tender bids, none of the contractors who applied “qualified”. The truth, as would come to light later, the governor had a meeting with his clansmen who he accused of not applying for contracts. He had the tenders re-advertised for their benefit.

Because of clanism – which came into focus recently when the Garre Council of Elders decided that most of Mandera’s elected leadership should not vie “for the sake of unity and the 20 clans that make up the county” – nepotism and corruption have been placed on another plane. It is said that a prison warder was heard saying he would contest for governor in 2017, and the governor promptly appointed him director. Talk about bargaining power!

Hussen Abdi is a university graduate; he comes from a “minority” clan in Garissa. He narrated to this writer how the governor met with members of his clan, who wanted to know why the county had not hired from among them. In the meeting, which he attended, a list of county employees from his clan was represented, and his name was one of those read out. Only the county government does not employ him. Even people in the diaspora who supported the governor’s election bid in 2013 had also been employed in absentia.

“What is more,” Abdi confided, “many of those employed by the government do not reside in the county. Most simply get paid for living in the city, where they have built homes for themselves.”

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