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Thursday, September 16, 2010

Business Daily: �- Northern Kenya deserves attention

Ibrahim Mwathane

Northern Kenya deserves attention

Please look out and tell me what you see below,” I asked my Burundian friend as we entered Kenyan airspace from a Trans-Atlantic journey.

“Nothing. Just darkness”, she said.

“That’s the northern part of my country. Looks like it’s uninhabited, doesn’t it, compared to what we saw while overflying America and Europe at night. Yet it forms a major part of my country”, I told her.

As if to vindicate, the space below suddenly lit up as we approached Nakuru and proceeded through Naivasha to Nairobi.

The neat darkness was gone. Rather humbling. This undeveloped North challenges our national economy and business enterprise.

After six years, I returned to Garissa, provincial town, Northern Kenya. End of tarmac. To Isiolo, Wajir and Mandera is a very rough road.

And the many extras we take for granted out here in “ developed Kenya” are scant.

I for instance remember newspaper vendors bursting into laughter when I asked for a newspaper at about 12 noon.

“Not yet arrived”, they told me.

Six years back, they’d just shaken their heads, amused and in disbelief when I made a similar request at about 8 am.

I thought things must have improved. Not at all. Residents read rather stale news here.

Challenges in aspects like entertainment, accommodation and travel are galore.

Yet Garissa, compared to the wider arid North, is modern and well connected to “Kenya”.

But in many aspects, the town is fighting back admirably. It’s growing. The skyline, given what I had seen earlier, has changed.

New and higher commercial buildings have come up.

And numerous modern residential units have mushroomed all around.

Garissa will soon force itself to national attention.

But we need to be more proactive about its growth and its central role.

We must remember that it provides co-ordination and entry to the rather “dark North”, the Kenya we need to reclaim.

Reminds me of the book, “Confessions of an Economic Hit Man”, where author John Perkins observes how in the ‘70s , America helped to transform the desert Oil Kingdom of Saudi Arabia into a modern Industrialised Nation.

Through massive investments of capital and technology, shopping malls, housing complexes, hospitals, water and sewerage, communication, electrical and transport networks replaced the once archaic systems of the Kingdom.

Of course, the take for America too was immense. But the lesson here is that our arid North can be turned around.

If America, limited by distance and language, could achieve such a feat in under a decade, what about us?

With a common language, fairly short distances and compelling national reasons, we should transform our North.

That is why the President’s Madaraka Day speech indicating that feasibility studies are on going for a railway network to connect the Indian Ocean port of Lamu to Isiolo and Juba in Southern Sudan with a link from Isiolo to Moyale to connect Ethiopia to promote tourism, trade and investments must be lauded.

These plans should incorporate modern highways and an oil pipeline alongside.

And Garissa must be connected too. It is gratifying to note that the Vision 2030 sectoral plan for Lands 2008-2012 incorporates plans to source land for this important transport corridor.

The recent pronouncement allocating Sh4.2 billion for the development of roads to open up Isiolo as a Resort City by the Finance Minister in the 2010/11 budget also aligns well to developing Northern Kenya.

Those keen on tapping the latent business opportunities from irrigation agriculture, livestock production, real estate, the provision of service infrastructure and oil exploration in this area must therefore gear up early.

Makes good business sense.

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