The Ministry for Development of Northern Kenya and Other Arid Lands sponsored series of consultative meetings last year between members of parliament and professionals from 13 counties of North and South Rifts, Upper Eastern, North Eastern and Coast.
Better understanding of the opportunities, expectations, challenges and fears of devolved governance for the arid lands was the main objective of these forums and subsequent county meetings. The initiative and efforts of the ministry was highly appreciated.
As a follow up to the National Forum on Devolved Governance in arid lands held at Bomas of Kenya on December 3, the ministry arranged a three-day meeting for some 200 professionals, cross-section of leaders and Members of Parliament from North Eastern region at Garissa on February 25 to 27.
At Bomas it was emphasised the country’s sustained economic prosperity was dependent on the effective performance of all the 47 counties.
None were to be left behind and with time accelerating the productivity of those historically not so much endowed.
At Bomas Forum, people were reminded that in 1963, Kenya was twice as rich as Singapore but "today Kenya’ per capita is $780, barely double of what it was in 1963, while Singapore is $50,000 up from $180 in 1963.
The best to contrast with Singapore, in my opinion are Djibouti, Eritrea and Kuwait.
At the North Eastern leaders and professionals meeting in Garissa, it was generally felt the new county devolved structures will come with much opportunities, benefits and also heavy responsibilities for the leaders as well as ordinary people.
Specifically for the communities of Northern Kenya, their fears include lack of capacities, heightened clanism and conflicts, poor infrastructure, pettiness, inadequate financial base to address the multi-storied problems of the new counties and worsening of inter-county and inter-regional socioeconomic inequality.
In order to grant some kind of fairness, the new Constitution has provided for Equalization Fund under Art 204 which is only "one half per cent of revenue collected by the national government every year". This is little money. It is about Sh4 to Sh5 billions.
Sharing that among 13 infrastructural starved counties, with over 40 constituencies is like a drop of water in the Kalahari Desert, even in the long run.
One option of allaying the fears of the less developed counties such as those in the arid lands is to expand and establish an Equalization Fund Management Authority with a threshold capital expenditure outlay of Sh50 billion per year to help these counties grow faster and catch-up with the rest.
Such intentional and forceful initiative is not undertaken now, by 2030 or thereabout, some of our counties would be socio-economically like Chad, while others would be like Qatar. That is not permissible.