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June 30, 2011
Editor’s Note: In our continued series of interviews with influential Kenya-Somalis, WardheerNews has learned of an important political contestant who is seeking to address the developmental retardation in Garissa County. In an interview covering political, social, and economic issues facing Dujis Constituency, parliamentary aspirant Abdi Farah exposes his vision to WDN readers and to his constituents. Mr. Abdi has vast proven record in government and in international organizations. Here is the comprehensive coverage WardheerNews had with Mr. Abdi Farah.
WardheerNews (WDN): Mr. Abdi, to begin with, could you please tell us about your background?
Abdi Farah (AF): I come from Garissa town and schooled both primary and secondary at Garissa. I studied in India, Canada, and Kenya for post secondary education. I have work experience ranging from Government, Non-Governmental organization, quasi-governmental institutions and the private sector. I am a self-starter and motivated to improve the living conditions of the people in Garissa. I have no allegiance to the status quo and really coming with fresh ideas.
WDN: WardheerNews has learned that you are contesting Dujis Constituency. What motivated you to plunge into Kenya's political arena?
AF: I am contesting for Dujis constituency Parliamentary seat. This constituency has seen three elected representatives since independence. Each one of them has put in his time and effort to make a difference and they did in their own way. In my own way I think I have what it takes to make the next leap.
We need to have a strategy to address youth unemployment; we need to address cultural livelihood issues; we need to have a clear frame of mind on how to utilize the devolved funds; we need to discuss on how to benefit our communities on natural resources such as land, rivers, international boarders, and human capital.
All these will need leadership with a vision and ability to create an environment for sharing information. I think I can be that person for Dujis.
WDN: Tell us about the Dujis constituents that you would like to represent in parliament?
AF: Dujis has an area of about 4,000 square kilometers and is the host of the biggest city in the region. It is the most populated; it lies on the Tana River. It has 22% school enrollment, 7% dropout and ranks among the lowest rate in performance in the country. Girl child education is lower than the average. The poverty index is average in Kenyan terms and 40% live on less than a dollar a day. The rainfall pattern is erratic and insufficient.
Other parameters of development are also not amusing but the constituency has huge numbers of livestock population, arable and semi-arable, land and Permanent River.
WDN: According to recent Kenya census, the population of Kenya-Somali has grown exponentially. Do the number of elected officials who represent the Somali-inhabited region reflect the population size of Kenya-Somalis?
AF: Our problem in representation is not population. It is the vastness of the area that poses greater problem to representatives. This is because some of the constituencies are over 20,000 square kilometers and there are no road networks. Other infrastructures are non-existent and other means of communication are not there.
WDN: The Kenya constitution stipulates the creation of two houses of parliament i.e. a Lower House and Upper House. Which one are you contesting?
AF: We have the senate and the parliament. I am going for the parliament. It will have 350 members and I hope to be one of them.
WDN: Which political Party do you belong to?
AF: The political landscape in Kenya is ever changing. There are new alliances everyday and others going out of the map. I am on the Orange Democratic Movement (ODM) side of the spectrum.
WDN: The constituency you are vying to represent has in the past suffered myriads of problems including mounting insecurity, abject poverty, limited resources, declining education, poor infrastructure, political obscurantism, insurmountable misappropriation of county treasury, and lastly but not least state oppression and marginalization. What grand scheme do you have in place to reverse these negative trends?
AF: Some of the issues are historical and as a result of poor governance. Some are as a result of poor planning and taking advantage of citizen’s ignorance on rights and responsibilities. Some are cultural and systemic. We need to view every issue with its perspective and under the microscope of change for the better.
WDN: Besides being arid, Dujis Constituency is suitable for agriculture since it is sustained by the meandering Tana River. However, the constituency has been beset by adverse environmental factors and ecological degradation. With allocation of sufficient funds and agricultural expertise, don't you think the suffering and appalling living conditions of the constituents can be alleviated through soil conservation, land consolidation, and strenuous agroforestry measures and other suitable techniques?
AF: Our people are pastoralist and have the knowledge or know-how to keep livestock. We have the land and the livestock itself. We have plenty of water from the river. Over the years the problem has been there was discordance between government policies and people's wishes. The policy was trying to turn herdsmen to farmers and put policies towards this.
This in my view is counterproductive and self-defeating. If we put resource to better the condition of our livestock so that they are disease-free and well fed throughout the year then we can compete in the international markets like Botswana and other livestock based economies in the world. This will be my focus so that our people can be allowed and assisted for them to do what they can do best.
WDN: Statistics indicate that Garissa County has the highest concentration of livestock in east and central Africa yet little revenue is generated from livestock marketing sales to revive the county. Do you have any answer to the causes of this pathetic economic drain?
AF: It is true our livestock population has little value to sustain our economic power base. First of all this is because the government has no input into the production of the livestock. The local authorities just go to the market to milk the local farmer without any input. This is an industry that can sustain the nation if managed properly.
I will, in this regard, allocate specific resource to both stimulate production as well as marketing and market environment. I believe this will be attainable within the first five years.
WDN: Tell us how you are different from current and past legislatures when it comes to overturning the decline visible in your constituency?
AF: In the past resource mobilization was donor or Government dependent. I will endeavor to raise resource locally, nationally, and internationally. In the past, resource allocation was done without a laid strategy or agreed upon plan. The allocation will be broad based and with priorities set by the community. In the past, resource utilization was geared towards self-interest, individual favors, and lacked transparency. It will be my duty to make sure resource is utilized efficiently.
WDN: Dujis constituency has the hallmarks of inter-tribal rivalry and blood feuds. What measures do you have in place to prevent such incidents from happening again in the future?
AF: This is true but in a small scale. Such conflicts are as a result of poor governance and lack of equity in the distribution of resources. I will establish constituency committee in clan relations and will monitor resource distribution so there is transparency and equity in all community projects. This will avoid frustration that can lead to violence and groupings.
WDN: The absence of visible infrastructure and industrialization may be blamed for the massive unemployment in your constituency. Could you tell our esteemed readers if you have any manifested plans for resolving this negative scenario.
AF: Unemployment is real in our area, but again is self made or rather a state of mind. For example, there are over 100,000 men and women who come to the region from only lower eastern province for jobs and close to 30% of these are in Dujis constituency yet our youth are unemployed. People are mostly employed by the private sector and if the government wants to create jobs the direction is to commission massive projects.
If the youth don’t want to work at the construction industry, if they don’t want to work at the farming industry, if they will not work at the manufacturing industry then there is a problem.
We need to educate our youth both those who went to school and those who did not that if they are willing to work hard for a whole day it is ok to make cement blocks or water flowers. We need to empower them with the skills of modern workforce and organize them accordingly. We need to give them support both financial and technical for them to move forward. Once we have made this shift then we can create jobs.
WDN: Women, children, and minorities have been neglected for a long time due to the lack of state subsidies that could be used to elevate their living standards. Compared to other regions of Kenya, child mortality rates in your constituency display grim statistics. Do you have a feasible action plan to resuscitate this marginalized group within the society you plan to represent? If so, how will you implement it?
AF: Improving the demographic health status of a community is multi-dimensional. It could be health related or other social determinants of health. At present, our main challenge in the provision of healthcare is getting service providers. There are many facilities; the government has put effort in availing necessary equipment and drugs. Where we have major problem is the staffing of the facilities and public education on the utilization of available services.
We will improve this by putting resource into the existing medical training college so that the enrollment includes many cadres and there is deliberate bias towards locals to boost the numbers very fast. It will also be prudent to recruit students right from the schools so that we have targeted numbers over a period of time.
WDN: Lamenting on the poor educational standards of Kenya-Somalis, one Kenyan president was quoted as saying in Kiswahili: “elimu ya Msomali haipiti form four”. This statement simply translates to “a Somali's education terminates in the fourth form (twelfth grade in high school)”. It is a statement that seems to hold water because your constituency lags behind other regions in higher education. Due to government neglect and widespread malfeasance, the yearly quota system allocated to your constituency is not commensurate with the explosive population of high school graduates. Tell us how you plan to create an institution of higher learning and the projected impact it will have on your constituents who lack equal employment opportunities.
AF: We do have institutions of higher learning and middle level colleges in Garissa. There is the teachers college, the medical training center, The NEP technical college, NEP college of Health Sciences, and Umul-Qura Islamic University. In addition, the University of Nairobi, Moi University, and Kenyatta University have affiliate colleges in Garissa. There is also the proposed NEP university college which has been budgeted for but has not started functions.
The point is, getting admission to higher education is not a major problem but the handicap is lack of resource to assure continuity to the young man and young woman. Our community even those who are blessed with riches, education is not a priority. I intend to create a scholarship fund that can be accessed by all students and ensure all graduates of high school are able to go to the institutions of their choice and develop a career of their choice.
WDN: Issuance of national identity cards to Kenya-Somalis has long been a burning issue in all sectors of society. Prevalence of graft in the office having jurisdiction over the processing of ID cards has left many Kenya-Somalis in a state of deprivation and statelessness. Recently, the Kenya Government announced that two million ID cards will be distributed to eligible Kenyans of legal age. If elected, how will you influence the Kenya government to preserve the inalienable rights of Kenya-Somalis as regards national identity?
AF: This is an issue that touches many hearts and souls and is an issue that has far reaching impact than the eye can see. I believe that ID as it is used today is a colonial hangover that needs to be eliminated totally. It is an entry point of all corrupt deals whether from a chief, a vetting committee, the police or even the registration officers. It merits no significance since it is not tied to any social benefit. It is an immigration document that has for long time become a police tool. The rules of getting one are based on discrimination and lacks clear guidance.
Despite all this, it is mandatory for all Kenyans over the age of 18 years to have one. Ordinarily, a citizen should just walk into an office and declare his/her age, fill a form and just get it or be told on when to come for it. At present there is a vetting committee and the requirements change from region to region. The issuance and availability of the registration team is also controlled and very slow in going to certain areas. I will lobby for a change in the system. I will agitate for equity and equality. I will advocate for law, order, justice and respect for the rights of individual citizen. Above all, I will stand for the rights of the people of Garissa.
WDN: Thanks for sharing your time with our esteemed readers.
AF: Thank you for providing me the opportunity to share my plan for Dujis Constituency