Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Wajir leaders meet to discuss county's fate

Professionals from Wajir County have been urged to give back to their home area and help tap into its great potential to lift it from years of neglect and underdevelopment.

As community leaders from business, government and academic circles gathered for the conference in Nairobi, it seemed a paradox that one of the most underdeveloped counties in Kenya could have produced such a bagful of elites, not to mention MPs, some of whom head powerful parliamentary committees.

Wajir Governor Ahmed Abdullahi said the county, which has a thriving livestock trade, also has great potential including possible oil and gas deposits for which exploration is now underway, solar and wind power, and a service industry including possibilities for hospitality and tourism.

“We have called together professionals from Wajir to discuss ways of tapping the county’s potential as a prelude to a major investors’ conference in June,” he said at the Wajir investment conference at a city hotel.

He said the vast county, as well as its so-called marginalised neighbours Garissa and Marsabit, which together cover 22 percent of Kenya’s land mass, cannot be ignored.

Equity Bank Chief Operating Officer Dr Julius Kipng’etich proposed that county’s professionals, most of whom are domiciled in Nairobi, start a patriotism fund as a way of giving back to the community to support basic services such as education and health.

He also urged the formation of a debt instrument, or bonds, that could be given as gifts so that the elites could contribute to the local economy by acquiring stakes in sectors such as livestock and water, among others specific to the dry region.

But even as the county’s potential is well documented, so are the challenges that stand in the way of rapid economic and developmental take-off, forcing county leaders to seek the help of local brains, many of whom have passed through Wajir’s schools, most of which are in a sorry state.

Turbaj MP Mohammed Elmi called for the formation of a bipartisan investment body that would bypass clan and political interests that now prevent development and investment from reaching parts of the county.

“Without an investment body free from clan interests and local politics all our investment plans  will come to naught,” he warned.

It emerged during the meeting that local investors who wanted to invest in areas that are occupied by clans different from theirs have found it almost impossible because of rivalry, and it would be much harder for outsiders or foreigners to set up shop there as well.

The only access to the vast county is by air through Wajir airport as roads are non-existent. Successive national governments failed to build roads connecting the region’s four counties, Isiolo, Wajir, Garrissa and Marsabit.

Poor school enrollment, with entry in primary school at a paltry 34 percent against a 100 percent national average, 13 percent secondary school enrollment against a 51 per cent average for the rest of the country is also an issue to grapple with.

School dropout rates for girls are alarming, with half of them leaving by the time they reach Standard 5.

Other leaders who attended the meeting were Aldas MP Adan Keynan, Wajir East MP Abbas Sheikh, Wajir County Women Representative Fatuma Ibrahim and Wajir West MP Abdikadir Ore.

They urged that security in the county be upgraded and spoke out against singling out members of the Somali community for screening to prevent acts of terrorism. They said fair treatment of Kenyan Somalis was integral tothe development of counties and of the nation as well.

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