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Billow KerrowOn a cold winter morning of February 1962 in London, Hon Abdi Rashid Khalif, the Legislative Council representative for Northern Frontier District’s (NFD) political party, NPPP, rose from his chair to tell British Secretary for Colonial Affairs at the 2nd Lancaster House Constitutional talks on Kenya that the region preferred to secede, citing fears that it would be discriminated against by KANU Government after independence. Another delegate, KADU’s John Konchella whose party strongly advocated for a federal government, observed that KANU‘s memorandum had avoided dealing with pertinent issues including the Somali problem, the Maasai treaties, the future of the Coastal Strip, and the land problems among others. The British won’t listen.

Later, the NFD delegates walked out of the conference when their position was rejected, and subsequently boycotted the 1963 General Elections.

In March 1963, the Colonial Secretary in rejecting the secessionist vote announced: “ Britain understands the desire of Somali people to express their own identities…but Kenya is a country which depends for its future on being able to recognize people of different races and prove it is capable of providing a home where people of different races can LIVE HONOURABLY and amicably”. However, NPPP leaders responded by starting the Shifta war. A fortnight after independence, Jomo Kenyatta declared an emergency in the region and stated that the Government would not cede an inch of its territory, urging NPPP supporters to “pack your camels and go’. The emergency laws would remain in force until 1991 when President Moi lifted it after the IPPG conference.

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Consequently, the region, stretching from Lamu to Kajiado to Marsabit to Turkana, including entire North Eastern, remained neglected and marginalized. Former IEBC Chair Ahmed Issack in his 2008 splendid analysis tracing the region’s history titled “The legal impediments to development in Northern Kenya” wrote ‘in early 1960s, American writer, Negley Farson, travelling in the region observed that, “there is one half of Kenya about which the other half knows nothing about and seems to care even less”. He further observed “No constructive or meaningful development ever took place during this period. Indeed, over 80% of the region’s budget was always spent on security leaving nothing for development, rendering it the most underdeveloped and marginalized in Kenya”.

But the same situation persisted in the country’s all arid and semi-arid areas, including the Coast region.

Former PM Raila Odinga wrote on his Facebook Page on Oct 6, 2016: “The reason the Coast region has remained behind is because Nairobi’s priorities are not necessarily your priorities. How Kilifi remained behind despite massive resources is clearly spelt out in the Truth, Justice and Reconciliation report. The poverty here is a direct product of government policies pursued by all the three regimes since independence. Unfortunately, those policies persist to date.” He went on to state that TJRC found that during the mandate period (1963-2008) the state “adopted economic and other policies that resulted in the economic marginalization of five key regions in the country: North Eastern and Upper Eastern; Coast; Nyanza; Western; and North Rift.”…/the-marginaliza…/922167434555320/

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Yet, in the recent debate on revenue allocation that pitted the country’s developed counties against these marginalized regions, some leaders feigned ignorance and engaged in a zero-sum game to deny these regions resources, citing the regions as land with no value. Migori Senator Ochillo Ayacko stated in the chamber “marginalization is a fallacy, mischaracterized and a distortion of facts” while a nominated Senator representing minorities argued that the demand for equity was “a form of tortuous, convoluted and retributive justice to cure one form of marginalization with another”.

The Senate is under siege because the Government is determined to take away a mere sh 17B from 19 largely marginalized and poor counties and unashamedly give it to the rich counties represented by the 3 most powerful leaders in the country today. Our history of discrimination has come a full circle, casting these regions again as undeserving. As the adage goes, ‘people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel’.

At Mandera Secondary School literature class, I studied Shakespeare’s’ tragic play Coriolanus, based on the Roman leader Caius Marcius Coriolanus. Poverty and famine in the country had pitted the common people against the aristocrats of Rome (patricians). With the support of the Roman Senate, Coriolanus rejects popular vote, arguing it amounts to allowing ‘crows to peck the eagles’ but he is banished into exile after a popular uprising by the commoners. In the play, the commoners lament and I quote:

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“We are accounted poor citizens,
the patricians good. What authority surfeits on
would relieve us: if they would yield us but
the musty superfluity, while it were wholesome, we
might guess they relieved us humanely; but
they think we are too dear: the leanness that
afflicts us, the object of our misery, is as an
inventory to particularize their abundance;
our sufferance is a gain to them.”

As Jomo Kenyatta said, we are suffering without bitterness but for how long? Kenyans, let’s advance shared values. Kenya must feel like a home to all us as the colonialist said!

Billow Kerrow is former Mandera County Senator

About Whispers from the North

Whispers from the North is an online platform that appreciates the ecological, cultural and socio-economic diversities of Northern Kenya. We also acknowledge that the lives of the communities of northern Kenya has been shaped by a number of intrinsic and extrinsic factors which have led to complex challenge that calls for a multifaceted approach.

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