The development debate in Mt Kenya is an important discourse had it not been interpreted in the context of “2022” and “handshake” politics.
Since independence there is a narrative that has been peddled, and with a good measure of success, that the region has been favoured over other regions development-wise. I can safely assume that the mental picture of a Kenyan who has never travelled to the region would be that of a happy-go-lucky people living in large farms with everything they need. And the reason for this is that the region has been viewed through the narrow lenses of a few wealthy elites.
The reality on the ground is very different. In the 1990s the coffee sector that was the mainstay of the region collapsed and attempts by successive governments to revive the same have been half-hearted at best. Similarly, tea, dairy, cotton and horticulture sectors are limping thanks to the high cost of inputs and poor access to markets. The consequence of this hopelessness has been rampant alcoholism among the youth, rising crime and declining education standards. Travelling across the region one is met by hordes of jobless youths who have resigned to the bottle, the tin, or whatever container is used to serve the toxic brews. Crime has now found its way to the agriculture sector.
Which is why I see no harm in a healthy soul searching to determine which way forward for the region. Stifling the debate won’t take the problem away though the best venue to do this is not at a late-night party.
So, the elephant in the room is: has the region been neglected in matters development by the current government? In Kenya, development is mainly seen from a narrow infrastructure and utility points of view — water, electricity and roads. At least this is the standard the politicians use. There is no doubt that good infrastructure is a catalyst for development. But when people cannot afford to pay for basic commodities – healthcare and decent shelter – a newly tarmacked road in their area will not make much sense.
Which is why the leaders must shift the development discourse to initiatives that will actually get money to people’s pockets. Small- scale agri-processing plants and value addition cottage industries is one way to generate mass jobs in the region’s rural areas and small urban centres. Think of mini-dairy processing plants producing milk and yoghurt for local consumption. Then a deliberate and coordinated revival of the tea and coffee sectors would be another. It’s incumbent upon the leaders from Mt Kenya to pursue an agenda that harnesses the region’s economic potential. With a fairly well educated and enterprising population, the region is a fertile ground for an economic miracle.
So let a heathy debate ensue. However, if the debate gets mired in succession politics then we are sitting on a ticking time-bomb. The mountain may just erupt!