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Nice words, but where is the action?

This week I’m attending a workshop to discuss Kenya’s Vision 2030 and how the development strategy for the country’s northern arid lands can be implemented. Events like these always make me think about the gap between rhetoric and reality. What will Vision 2030 really mean for people in regions like Wajir and Turkana, currently suffering another terrible drought?

While families there suffer severe thirst and hunger in their parched, dusty landscape, the policy papers that could help them are tragically collecting dust on the shelves of the government’s Nairobi offices.

A village in Turkana. Photo: Alun McDonald
A village in Turkana

On the one hand, Kenya has some of the best policies of all the countries in the region when it comes to supporting pastoralists and the drylands. From the Economic Recovery Strategy (for employment and wealth creation) and the ASAL Strategy (for Arid and Semi Arid Lands), to the new Livestock Policy and Vision 2030 itself – all contain positive statements about pastoralism and government commitments to improve people’s lives.

But then on the other hand I see the drought worsening and watch footage like this, from Wajir in northeastern Kenya, and I wonder where it all goes wrong.

When President Kibaki’s administration took office in 2002, they promised to invest 10 billion shillings ($115m at today’s exchange rate) in the drylands within five years. How much of that ever came? And if it was made available, how on earth was it spent?

Villagers in Wajir rely on trucks to bring water during the 2009 drought. Photo: Alun McDonald
Drought in Wajir

There is a “Ministry of Northern Kenya and Other ASAL Areas”, yet it faces constant hurdles to access its annual budget from the treasury. In the 2009 financial year it was allocated Ksh 5 billion to develop its regions. It ended up getting only Ksh 400 million – less than one twelfth what it was supposed to receive. Last year the Ministry was allocated Ksh 16 billion. It’s not yet clear how much of that it got, but I’m sure it will only be a fraction of what is needed.

So what happens? Why the gap between the huge progress on paper, and the same old story on the ground? There is clearly a lack of will within the political “establishment” to actually implement the strategies that are created.

This lack of political will is the reason that millions are suffering from drought, unable to afford food and faced with the death of their animals, despite the fact that these droughts are predictable and happen almost every year.

At this week’s meeting we are discussing how Kenya can turn words into real action that improves people’s lives. There will be more droughts in the years to come – we know the climate is changing and that the rains will fail again.

But if good policies that already exist can become the reality on the ground, millions of Kenyans would not have to suffer so much.

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Written by John Letai

John Letai

John Letai is Oxfam's pastoralist livelhoods adviser in the Horn and East Africa. He is based in Nairobi

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