Friday, 31 January 2014

Turkana County: The Richest Poorest County

“And when I speak, I don’t speak as a democrat or a republican or an American. I speak as a victim of the so called democracy. You and I have never seen democracy- all we have seen is hypocrisy. When we open our eyes today and look around America, we see America not through the eyes of someone who has enjoyed the fruits of Americanism. We see America through the eyes of someone who has been the victim of Americanism. We don’t see any American dream. We have experienced only the American nightmare” -- (MALCOM X)

Turkana County- the largest of all the forty seven counties that make up the Republic of Kenya occupies the North-Western part of the country. With an area of 77,000km2 it shares international borders with Ethiopia to the North, Sudan to the North West and Uganda to the West. Lodwar, which serves as the headquarters of the vast region was established in the year 1919 as an army base for the colonial government and developed into an administrative centre in 1939. The town is famous for its use as training ground for the Kenya Defence Forces and has since developed into a modern town- at least compared to the other towns in the county. With the lowest rainfall in Kenya and Africa, life in this part of the world is characterized by substandard living, lack of security, unreliable food and inadequate clean water sources, and generally an overall daily fight for survival. Like many other regions of rural Northern Kenya, the local community has to depend on the philanthropy and charity of friends of goodwill and Non-Governmental Organizations in the form of relief food which may not always be forthcoming or in sufficient quantities. They have been passing their days in extreme inhuman conditions with a few engaging in business but with the challenge of a ready market for goods and the fact that nobody knows the hour nor the day when the devil, masquerading as a cattle rustler, will strike. There has been high level of poverty among the local populace characterized by low level of literacy, poor health, malnutrition, wanting educational facilities and depressing environmental and sanitation conditions. Government interventions have always remained traditional despite the clear indications that the conditions of this impoverished region demand innovative approaches. Government in government out, issues that touch on the basic human rights of the people in northern Kenya have fallen on deaf ears. Ranging from security that is anchored in the supreme law of the land as a fundamental right to a decent living, those of us that allegedly made a mistake of consenting to be born here are a forgotten lot that appears to be occupying a place beyond the longest distance in the horizon, the eyes of the past three regimes could see even when stretched to the maximum. The government in which we banked all our hope in 1963 in our hitherto mistaken belief that it will level the playing field and the rules of the game has times without number been abused by those in ‘Kenya’ who, until the oil discovery, subscribed to the fallacious and backward believe that the North Western part of Kenya is not part of this great nation. To exclude this vast region and its inhabitants from reaping from the economic boom that has transformed the rest of the country is contrary to the basic principles on which humanity is founded. While the Government of the Republic of Kenya and the entire Kenyan fraternity can boast of numbers in economic and social development, the northern part of the country has been stagnant, thanks to the leadership of this great East African nation. One may even wonder whether the so called equal distribution of national resources has any practical meaning when it comes to its application in Kenya. It is on record that immediately after independence, Mzee Jomo Kenyatta took a solemn vow to move this country forward and fight disease, poverty and ignorance. Yet after fifty years of turbulence and struggle on the part of the inhabitants of these impoverished regions, there is nothing to write home about in Turkana County. The basic principles of citizen protection on which a larger chunk of the Constitution 2010 is founded on, have not found their way into the priorities of Kenya’s torch-bearers.
The creation by the infamous coalition government in April 2008 of the Ministry of State for the Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands was by any stretch of imagination an abuse on the Kenyan taxpayer as it did not address any issue evidenced by the lack of concrete self-sustaining projects that are a concomitant results of the work undertaken by the now defunct ministry. The leadership has failed to atone itself to the fallacious claims that they are elected into office to serve and preserve the interests of Kenyans, poor or rich, marginalized or not, northern or central. Not even in the jungle does the government sit on the fence watching while its citizens- some of whom fought for the independence of the country are butchered by the enemy from yonder as it happened in the Todonyang’ massacre or feast on dog’s meat (whatever that one means). Failure on the part of the county and national governments to deal with the situation in northern Kenya ranging from neglect to human rights violations has had drastic consequences on the quality of life of these poor sons and daughters of God. The communities consider these concerns a high priority, the foundation of their very existence, their constitutional right, and have taken considerable energy to speak out and act on the issue. I have witnessed people who succumbed to the drought together with their animals and families because they had all the hope to live, the place to live, but did not have the food to eat. I have witnessed people who died in the presence of all their friends and relatives who had the generosity and sympathy but lacked the food to share out to them.  I have seen and heard of friends and relatives who were ambushed by the enemy in the presence of armed government security officers who chose to “stay cool” and let the devil take over. The recipients of this kind of injustice are the ordinary men and women who toil and moil in Northern Kenya all day and night with stubborn hope. A pro-active approach can effectively and efficiently address such hunger problems and nip them in the bud before they arise to the horrendous levels they have now gone to. Only then can Kenya claim to be a democracy of the rule of law in which all are equal before the jus commune and a nation of the people, by the people and for the people. it is high time we stood firm on the ground and ask ourselves what exactly is happening in the once “rich county”. 

The Writer is a Youth Leader and Law Student at the University of Nairobi

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