Monday, 6 May 2013

Opinion: NYANZA Regional elite should focus on development, not politics

NYANZA Regional elite should focus on development, not politics

  Standard- By Ken Opalo

This week the local dailies reported that former MP Shem Ochuodho is chairing a forum of Luo professionals to lobby President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Government to address development needs of Nyanza. At first look one may dismiss this as an opportunist attempt by Dr Ochuodho and his allies to get the attention of the President, who must be working overdrive to find Luo leaders he can work with in his Government. But whatever Ochuodho’s motivations are, in my view this is a step in the right direction.
I have written on these pages before that as a country we need to wean ourselves of the culture of talking, eating and sleeping politics. Incessant politicking is responsible for widening the ethnic chasms that define our country. It has also made our leaders hostage to politics and associated theatrics rather than focusing on a much needed development agenda. Perhaps nowhere else in Kenya is this more pronounced than in Luo Nyanza.

The region has been the bastion of opposition politics almost uninterrupted since 1966. As a result, the residents have not managed to convert their political clout into economic and social development. Many talk of individual leaders who have paid the price for Kenya’s second liberation, but I would argue that their constituents have perhaps paid an even higher price. Nyanza’s marginalisation has not only come from State House. It has also come from the region’s own leaders. The young man from Kisumu of the ‘donge’ fame is the embodiment of this phenomenon. His infamous emotional outburst following the Supreme Court ruling on the election petition was more tragic than comical. He appeared to have staked his very future on a particular candidate’s electoral success.

The irony of it all is that beyond the ethnic pride of having a co-ethnic in State House the young man may not have benefited much even if his preferred candidate had won the presidency. There is no evidence to suggest that his preferred leader’s lieutenants would have suddenly shifted their gaze from national politics in Nairobi to focus on local development in Nyanza. This is exactly why Ochuodho’s initiative is most welcome. For the first time, it takes attention away from Luo leaders’ fixation with politics in Nairobi and focuses it on the development needs of Luo Nyanza, which at present are multitude. But while Luo Nyanza is the epitome of this phenomenon, the propensity of politicians to ignore the development needs of their loyal constituents is not unique to the region.

All over Kenya our leaders’ desire for personal aggrandizement and enrichment in Nairobi has prevented them from attending to the needs of their people. Unwavering loyalty to particular leaders as opposed to voting on developmental performance has come at a steep price. This is shown in the relatively better developmental performance of leaders in the more electorally competitive parts of the country.

To end this abandonment of voters by leaders, President Uhuru must directly appeal to, and assure people like the young man in Kisumu – kwa maneno na matendo - that the Government is theirs and works for them. He must make sure that regions that did not vote for him do not feel left out of the new government’s development agenda. Forget Cabinet appointments, what will matter most is whether people in these regions have paved roads, running water, electricity, good schools and hospitals. Former President Kibaki showed Kenyans what their Government was capable of doing. But he failed at facilitating an equitable creation. Uhuru should strive to do better than Kibaki in this regard. If he fails he will be judged harshly, and worse, Kenya will suffer for it.
Regional elite should focus on development, not politics Opinion: