Over the past several weeks, a cursory glance at newspapers and primetime news would have one thinking that Armageddon has descended upon Kapedo, the village bordering Pokot and Turkana counties that media outlets have described as “sleepy.” One thing is certain though—no one in Kapedo is sleeping soundly as government forces battle what we are told are a group of bandits and rudimentary militia. Police officers and locals alike have been slain gangland style while the region stands at the brink of a humanitarian crisis—it’s a sad state of affairs.
While I mourn the dead and empathise with the people of Turkana, I want to probe why the region’s security has always remained rickety and on stilts. Government officials, it seems, would want us to believe that violence in that region is spawned by elected leaders who sponsor bandits in some misguided quest for political power and glory. While this sounds plausible, I refuse to accept that line of reasoning. Intellectual simpletons have pointed a finger at bad cultural practices that encourage raiding of cattle among nomadic communities. This argument, too, is a lazy reach.
To understand why the Turkana and the Pokot have become such predatory and malevolent neighbours, a dive into Kenya’s colonial past is necessary. A history lesson might not be everyone’s cup of tea, but I must do this because I am afraid, as Winston Churchill once was, that those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.
Upon setting his eyes on the fertile lands around Mt. Kenya, Sir Harry Johnston, a British explorer and colonial administrator, exclaimed: “Here we have a territory admirably suited for a white man’s country!” After the construction of the Kenya-Uganda railway whose main purpose was to “open up the fertile lands”, regions across the country that received ample rainfall were designated as “Crown Lands”. These Crown Lands, or White Highlands as they later came to be known, would only be leased to Europeans and Americans.
The colonisers’ only objective was to exploit Kenya’s rich and fertile lands. They had no use for arid areas such as the Turkana region and other drier parts of northern Kenya. As such, infrastructure such as roads, water and electricity were only installed in these “green” regions. Schools and hospitals, too, were concentrated in these areas with an aim to treat the Africans who provided labour in the fields and educate their children for clerical jobs in the colonial administration. This is how the concept of “chlorophyll economics” was born in Kenya. For those of you a little short on grey matter, chlorophyll is the green pigment that gives plants their colour.
The underdeveloped arid North had hoped that after we had successfully kicked out the selfish white man, a new post-independence regime would redeem them from privation through equitable distribution of the national cake. They were dismayed when the founding fathers decided that the colonisers’ ways of ruling were the best. Sessional Paper No. 10, drafted in 1965, outlined a policy where the government was going to direct nearly all its resources towards White Highlands in order to maximise returns. Marginalisation had kicked in proper.
Over the years, successive governments have not bothered to improve the lot of the Northern region. Places like Baringo, Turkana, Garissa and Wajir became but a basket of deplorables. Here, the schools were few and far in between. Police stations were nearly non-existent, with the few police-posts in the region having been erected by international bodies to provide security to refugees. In Turkana, it is said that the residents look upon the refugees with envy because the latter are at least granted education, food, clothing and shelter by international organisations.
Journalists who were recently stranded in Kapedo narrated horrors of the region which had little to do with insecurity but more to do with the lack of roads and the vast distances they had to walk in order to get food and water. Pupils in this region walk such distances every day to attend classes under trees since the schools lack classrooms.
Growing up, the residents of Turkana saw no government presence in their lives. Successive governments did not bother to provide services such as security, education and healthcare. The people of Turkana were treated like terminal patients who did not need resuscitation. As such, they learnt to be a government upon themselves. Since nobody would bother to protect them, they armed themselves with AK47s and created their own way of life.
The Inhabitants of Turkana live in a permanent state of dystopia where resources such as water and food are scarce. That is why they keep raiding each other’s cattle and jostling over water points.
As if awakened from a long slumber, the Government of Kenya now wants to be involved in the affairs of Turkana. But instead of strategizing on how we will improve infrastructure and resources, we have decided to start with war.
This saga itself is bad enough, but bundle it with BBI provisions that advocate for “one man one shilling” and you shudder. “One man one shilling” reverses the 2010 constitution’s provisions for equitable revenue sharing and will ensure that regions like Turkana remain marginalised till kingdom come. I told you, it’s a sad state of affairs.