Simon Peter Owaka: Minding North Kenya inspired

THE NEW MINISTRY OF Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands is probably the jewel in the crown of the Grand Coalition set up a few days ago.

The ministry, which will oversee development projects in northern Kenya and other arid areas that have been marginalised for years, was a good idea that should have happened a long time ago.

It is also fitting that Wajir East MP Elmi Mohammed was appointed to head the new ministry. Mr Mohammed will be assisted by Hussein Sasura who hails from Upper Eastern Province, also a semi-arid region.

The fact that the two are native to the region means that they will be in a good position to know the inhabitants’ development needs and help them set the right priorities.

Thus it is a belated recognition that these marginalised areas have special development needs unlike other parts of the country. For one, the climate is unusually harsh because of the desert conditions.

However, this does not mean that these region cannot be developed simply because of the harsh climate. The very fact that we people live in these lands means that development can take place.

Human beings use two things to conquer various environments: culture and technology. Culture provides a people with traditions, customs, norms and a religious belief system that enables them to live in groups without which life would be very difficult.

Technology refers to those tools that humans use to provide for their needs, the most basic of which are food, clothes and shelter.

The establishment of a ministry to oversee development in this area, then, is a step in the right direction. It is a recognition that this part of the country can be developed for the benefit of the residents and the country as a whole.

HARSH CLIMATE CONDITIONS ARE A barrier to development. But this does not mean they cannot be conquered. Indeed, there are numerous cases the world over where deserts have been literally been turned into bread-baskets. Good examples include Arizona (USA) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE).

Arizona is known for its desert climate, exceptionally hot summers and mild winters. However, the state has witnessed tremendous development over the years. It registered a gross state product (equivalent of our GDP) of US$232 billion in 2006.

This figure gives Arizona a bigger economy than countries such as Ireland, Finland, and New Zealand.

Though it is rich in oil and gas deposits, most of the UAE is desert. These conditions have not prevented this Middle Eastern country from becoming one of the most industrialised countries.

The UAE is a fast growing hub for manufacturing and service sector industries as it seeks to diversify its economy from over-dependence on natural resources.

From the foregoing, it is clear that one of the key goals for the new ministry will be to open up these marginalised areas through the provision of adequate infrastructure such as good roads, electricity, telecommunications and reliable water supply.

Such facilities will attract the private sector. With proper infrastructure, nothing will stop investors from putting their funds into sectors such as meat processing and allied industries in which Northern Kenya has a high potential.

Mr Owaka is a postgraduate student at the University of Nairobi.

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