Center for Peace and Democracy (CPD)

Sunday, April 23, 2006

North-Eastern Province: Shame of a semi-arid region condemned to self-destruction

Most Kenyans are too young to remember that the only external war that our army ever fought concerned what we now call North-Eastern Province (NEP). So the question is vexed: For what good reason did we pour untold resources to retain a region in which we were not really interested?

A section of displaced villagers camping at Dukana Primary School prepare a meal in the open. For the glaring fact is that, ever since we won that war, our successive governments have done exactly nothing to make the NEP an integral part of Kenya.

Actually, the problem has much deeper historical roots. Like most political problems that now beset us, we owe it squarely to colonialism – specifically to the Berlin treaty of 1885 by which Europe arrogantly partitioned Africa.

The first poser that faced Mzee Jomo Kenyatta upon independence in 1963 was how to defeat a secessionist rebellion in the eastern part of what the colonial regime called Northern Frontier District (NFD).

The NFD was composed of what is now North-Eastern and the northern sections of Eastern and Rift Valley provinces. But this secessionist bid was confined to the eastern part, the one inhabited by ethnic Somali.

Security alert: Armed homeguards form a shield around residents of Dukana location in Marsabit district camping at Dukana Primary School. This follows heightened tension between warring communities along the Kenya-Ethiopia border.Photos by William Oeri The rebellion had two completely understandable causes. The first was a burning "pan-Somali" desire. As it had done to many other African peoples, colonialism had divided the Somali nation into many colonies.

There were Djibouti (French Somaliland), Ogaden (Ethiopian Somaliland), Juba (Italian Somaliland), Punt (British Somaliland) and eastern NFD (also administered by Britain but from Nairobi).

As independence approached (for Punt and Juba), the Somali nationalists committed themselves to Somalia Irredenta (Unredeemed Somalia) and swore that Uhuru would be complete only if the five lands reunited.

It was in this spirit that the Somali Republic (Punt and Juba) sponsored the secessionist movements in the NFD and Ogaden and went on to fight (and lose) debilitatingly costly wars with both Kenya and Ethiopia.


The second reason was paradoxical. The British were past masters at the divide-and-rule tactic which Roman imperialism had perfected for them 2,000 years earlier. Because the Somali, a Hamitic people, have skins a shade lighter than the other "natives", the British grouped them with the Asians and the Arabs on a social rung a tad higher than the other natives.

Yet, for all that, colonial Nairobi invested absolutely nothing in developing the NFD. The probable reason was that the region was arid and semi-arid and did not seem to have any economic promise.

Semi-aridity is what may, at least partly, also explain why the British invested more in educating the Kikuyu, the Luo and the Luhya than in educating such Nilo-Hamitic peoples as the Kalenjin, the Maasai and the Turkana.

At independence, then, colonial neglect, and the kith-and-kin question, gave the ethnic Somali the quite understandable feeling that they would be much better off in Somalia than in Kenya and Ethiopia.
But to succumb to Mogadishu's demands would have opened a can of worms all over the continent. How many other peoples – divided or not – would not have demanded separate ethnically solid republics of their own?

Consider, for instance, the Luo cluster. They were (and still are) in Tanganyika, Kenya, Uganda, Ethiopia, the Sudan and what were once Belgian Congo and French Central Africa.

To carve out a single entity incorporating all the Luo peoples would have entailed dismantling the entire Berlin boundary system which defined all the newly independent African states.
Even the redoubtable nationalist Kwame Nkrumah defended Berlin, pointing out that to redraw the borders according to tribal affinity would logically end up in puny mono-ethnic states with hardly any economic viability.

But it is true that Berlin has caused independent Africa insuperable problems. To its division of the continent without any regard to ethnic and cultural affinity is the cause of all our border demands and counter-demands.

To its lumping together into single colonies of many hitherto independent ethnic entities – with disparate economic and demographical fortunes – we owe the entire phenomenon of tribalism.
Yet Nkrumah was right. Berlin is by far the more cost-effective reality that we must live with. To attempt to redraw Africa's political map would be mind-bogglingly costly, not only in terms of money, but even in terms of temper and war.

Cheaper solution

The much cheaper solution was to try everything possible to bridge the yawning gaps of material progress that existed between the various tribes that the European powers had lumped into single colonies.

This remains the only solution to tribalism. If, instead, tribalism is intensifying all over the continent, it is because these material differences now gape more widely than the Rift Valley.
Put another way, it is because we have not tried to satisfy proportionately the providential needs of all the ethnic components of what we claim to be "nations".

This is probably the most spectacular of all the countless failings of Africa's entire nationalist and post-nationalist leadership.

All African heads of state and government have ruled as tribal chieftains – allocating resources and apportioning crucial decision-making jobs to members of their tribes, clans and families. They have thus succeeded only in terribly alienating other tribes, clans and families, thus making the task of ruling much more difficult for themselves. Africa's multi-party politics is basically inter-tribal conflict.

Kenya's successive leaders are excellent examples of failure at conflict-resolution. You cannot diffuse a conflict by stoking the fire that has caused it. Inter-tribal discord is now more intense than ever.

The refusal to invest in the NFD to make its people feel that they are a part of Kenya – and thus to rule them with their consent and, therefore, with greater ease – is the most glaring failing of presidents Kenyatta, Moi and Kibaki.

It does not make any sense that hundreds of northerners and their livestock perish every year for lack of food and water when people in other parts of Kenya drown in floods which are then allowed to go to complete waste.

If we were willing to channel all our April downpours into huge reservoirs linked through huge pipes to all our arid and semi-arid areas, we would have put paid permanently to the problem of drought.

If we dealt effectively with drought, we would obviate the deadly struggle for life which daily pits tribes against tribes, clans against clans, families against families and individuals against individuals.

Public resources

Resources abound (which I hope to describe later). But they include an armed force which has never fought a war since the Shifta menace of 1963, but which daily guzzles huge public resources for doing sweet nothing.

Our military has the best engineers, hydrologists, agriculturalists, doctors, vets, every kind of expert. The need is to deploy them to the NEP to help that part of Kenya onto the path of economic self-sufficiency.

All Kenyans should willingly pay even more for it because it is the only way we can proudly say that the NEP people are our brothers and sisters.
Source: Daily Nation, April 23, 2006
The opinions contained in this article are solely those of the writer, and in no way, form or shape represent the editorial opinions of "the Center for Peace and Democracy in Somalia (CPD)"


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