Editor’s Note: To better understand the state of affairs of Kenya Somali inhabited regions , particularly Garissa county since the adaption of County Governance System, where each county is managed by an elected local official, WardheerNews is pleased to bring to you an exclusive interview with Abdirahim Farah, a former Parliamentary aspirant for Garissa township. A man well-versed in how the county and the country operate, Abdirahim sheds light on the growing insecurity and malfeasance in the county and the Kenya nation as a whole. The interview was conducted for WardheerNews by our own Adan Makina.
Wardheer News (WDN): Abdirahim Farah welcome back to Wardheer News; since our last interview in June 30, 2011, is there any progress in the country, and what is your current assessment of the socio-economic and political situation in Kenya, particularly your home region, Garissa County?
Abdirahim: Adan thank you for the interview and I have come to recognize WardheerNews as a partner in information sharing since our last encounter. I would also like to wish WardheerNews and the audience Happy Eid ul-Fitri.
Kenya is continuously evolving in all directions. The change experienced in the past two years as a nation is both negative and positive. The new style of governance as occasioned by the new constitution, is both interesting and frustrating especially to the old guards. We have witnessed major state resource in terms of budgetary allocation towards development. Infrastructure has been given a lot of serious attention, youth empowerment and gender equity is in focus, poverty reduction and support of vulnerable groups is highlighted and many other positive moves. On the other hand, there is gross misappropriation of resources, insecurity of unlevelled magnitude and most of all deterioration of basic rights of the citizen. The negative observations are more pronounced in our region and the positives have been reaching us at snails speed.
WDN: What significant progress do you see since the creation of the county government in the last general election in 2013 and the subsequent devolution of power that gave the Somali-dominated region the right to sort out their differences and embark on the road to recovery and progress, particularly in the area of employment and economic developments?
Abdirahim: Let me start with by saying first of all devolution is the best thing that has happened to our region and for the pastoralist in general since independence. A lot of financial resources that never came to the region before was seen at our disposal. The sectors that were devolved benefited immensely and we hope others like education should be devolved.
But like all inventions, there is a learning process. We have to learn how to dispense and what controls to put on expenditure. I will say in the first years this process was far from perfect. My hope and prayer is we will improve as we grow and the National Government will continue supporting and increasing the resource to the counties.
WDN: Although, Kenya, in its quest for a devolved system of governance adopted a County Government system, however, it still upholds non-elected county commissioners. What is the role of these county commissioners and do their roles overlap or conflict with that of the authority of the county governors?
Abdirahim: In the structure of governance, devolution comes under the Ministry of devolution and National Planning. There are fifteen other ministries under the national government whose functions have not been devolved or half devolved. It is also good to note that Kenya, as a nation, was born from a colonial setting and some of the cultures of governance were inherited from the colonial father who made us believe that it is the way of doing business of governance. We have not been bold enough to throw away some of the structures that support colonialist thinking. This includes the provincial administration, the national identification card and the use of brute force in policing. As this is the norm, our style of governance will continue to include provincial administration and the justification is always that they coordinate government activities. In the new constitutional dispensation, their role has been consumed by the county structure and should have been long gone. But because of our mindset, this is likely to stay and duplicate the county structure.
WDN: Garissa has been in the international media spotlight mainly after the attack on the Garissa University College this year when approximately 148 aspiring college students were indiscriminately gunned down in cold blood by suspected extremist elements. What followed next was a massive departure of teachers and healthcare professionals from other regions and a prolonged curfew that hurt the economy and the general living conditions of the public in Garissa County. Do you think the administration running Garissa County and the national security apparatus were well prepared to avert the impending security fiasco that shook the region unawares?
Abdirahim: No, they were not well prepared and might not be anytime soon. I say so because; in the Garissa university incident the authorities got information of the incident. In fact, they even put a note for the students to stay vigilant due to eminent attack. If they could not avert this, then which one can they do? In fact even giving the students small training on what to do in case anything like this happens would have been helpful. Rumors has that all senior officers had gone for Easter, the police patrol vehicles were grounded because of no fuel and those policemen on site left because they did not have enough ammunition. This was a total failure of the national security and blaming Garissa leaders and residents is to me a big shame. Garissa people are as victims as the students. We suffer at the hands of the terrorists and at the hands of the security organs.
Security is the prerogative of the state and the security personnel have their job description to secure the lives and property of the citizens. If they fail, no one else can play their role.
WDN: How would you assess Garissa County Government’s handling of the socio economic affairs of its people, is Garissa County Government all-inclusive and is on the right pass toward advancing the development of the county both human and infrastructure in pace with the rest of the country?
Abdirahim: Below average. This is because mainly we are learning the process of devolution and there is no proper guide or a mentor. When we realize the resource available is enough for everyone if managed and cannot sustain one person if mismanaged, then we will have an all-inclusive, process oriented and development focused county. But as long as we are operating on a clan focused and it-is-my-time to eat attitude, then we will not go far.
The latter is the situation at the moment. It is exacerbated by the fact there is leadership deficiency and lack of systems.
WDN: Corruption has grown widespread in the county government and misappropriation of funds has rendered the county government totally broke. Case in point, recent reports indicated the governor of Garissa County was allegedly implicated in the leasing of ambulances from Emergency Plus Medical Services, a company fully owned by the Kenya Red Cross. What can you tell us about the scale of corruption in the county and what do you think can be done to overturn these sad events that are eating away every fabric of county governance?
Abdirahim: I don’t know much about corruption in the county government, but I can tell you for sure corruption is rampant in Kenya. Some are very obvious and others in the closets. Staffs of the county have been staff of the National government so there must be devolved corruption by default. The major fuel for corruption is laxity or lack of law enforcement and poor control mechanism. As said by wise men before 10% of the population are saints, 10% are hard core criminals and the remaining 80% are opportunists. If these opportunists are not controlled, they create a situation where every individual interest is the law. If law enforcement unit fails to function or is compromised, crime thrives. This is the situation in Kenya and it is in every corner of the country.
WDN: How is the state of the education and health sector in the county after the April 2015 Garissa University College Attack?
Abdirahim: The health sector is devolved and the county governments have the power to hire and fire. All staff who left were immediately replaced and there is no much problem although we don’t have locals to feel in some of the gaps.
Education is not devolved and schools have functionally closed. Our children are not likely to excel in the exams and some have already dropped out of school.
This is a major concern. We already had problems of getting local staff for our facilities and now we will miss generations. For the short term we are negotiating with county governments and Parliamentarians to allocate emergency funds for the hiring of local untrained teachers to fill the gap. In the long run we are requesting for devolution of the sector.
WDN: The greatest enemy of every Kenya-Somali inhabited region is clannism/tribalism. Do you think the current county government has failed in its attempts to restrain clannism/tribalism? How deeply rooted is clannism/tribalism in the county?
Abdirahim: Tribalism, clannism and nepotism are as old as Kenya and is not a monopoly of Somalis. If you look into our political parties and voting pattern, it is always my tribe, my person. When appointments and power-sharing is being negotiated, it is based on region and tribe. So this has become our trademark. Our region however has patented a more negative approach that is not even based on any value but settlements of areas that have no economic value. This is being fueled by politicians who count their clans as their voters and the rest as their opposition’s voters. If our politics change to party politics and the communities are orientated on voting for party ideals, then we are likely to see positive change. If we continue tribal politics and vote on those lines, then the onion pill will continue going down fold after fold.
WDN: Following President Uhuru Kenyatta’s appointment of Ambassador Mohamud Ali Saleh as the new regional coordinator for North Eastern, residents of the region have once again expressed optimism that he will bring the region to normalcy. Since Ambassador Saleh’s appointment, have you sensed any formal change in the security of the region?
Abdirahim: Ambassador Saleh and Commander Omar Shurie were tasked to bring sanity to the region and we have a lot of hope in them. They have also placed under them in every county a Somali from the region as the county commissioner of police. In my opinion this will work if they send on the ground Somali soldiers to support them. This is because they know the terrain and have the heart to fight for it. It is too early to say or notice change but I am optimistic.
WDN: The Governor of Wajir County, Mr. Ahmed Abdullahi and his dedicated team have been praised for transforming and accelerating Wajir County in terms of Agri-business, prospecting minerals, investment opportunities, renewable energy, and livestock farming, yet, Garissa County, having the biggest concentration of livestock in East and Central Africa and a meandering River Tana, is decelerating and has nothing to show off or offer to its struggling war-wary citizens. Why is such a resourceful region lagging behind other regions politically, socially, and economically?
Abdirahim: Necessity they say is the mother of invention. Garissa County has both a permanent river and more solid clan base in that over 90% of its population comes from only the Ogaden clan. The other counties of Northern Kenya have more complex clan mix and less natural resource. Yet they seem to be more organized and more focused on development. I am not sure how much of a success has been registered so far but certainly I will say a lot of the changes is due to the leadership. With focused, fair and all-inclusive leadership much can be achieved with the resource available. Without these we will be in merry-go-round of constant blame, shame and failure.
WDN: Do you anticipate running for a political office in 2017?
Abdirahim:Yes, I am In sha Allah.
WDN: We appreciate your time.
Abdirahim: Thanks for the opportunity.