Suspend campaigns in times of crisis and focus on the economy

ODM leader Raila Odinga in Taita Taveta County at a rally on March 2, 2021. [Emmanuel Wanson, Standard]

Northern parts of Kenya are hit by a devastating drought that has killed cattle and undernourished people. So far, almost three million people are facing severe food and water shortages.

The National Drought Management Authority (NDMA) has issued an early warning of the tragedy awaiting the country. President Uhuru Kenyatta declared the drought a national disaster last month and so far sad images of animal carcasses have been seen on mainstream and social media. The saddest part was when I saw video footage of wildlife pouring into the cities looking for water and food. Many people have already moved to the neighboring countries of Somalia, Ethiopia and Uganda to escape death and starvation.

Unfortunately, with such a severe drought, our politicians are busy campaigning for an election in 10 months’ time. Without any compassion, they are spending hundreds of millions organizing major political events instead of focusing on finding ways to combat the drought. The political establishment has no understanding of the challenges its subjects face.

Slowly, when the poor shepherds have no choice but to come and graze their cattle in the cities, reality will hit hard. The nomadic invasion of large ranches in Laikipia a few weeks ago suggests a rehearsal for what is to come. When thousands of camels move to Nairobi, Mombasa or Nakuru, a conflict between townspeople and shepherd communities is likely to break out.

Most of these herding communities are armed and not so easily threatened by violence. They are used to constant violence and hardship. It’s the people in the cities who are likely to give in.

The political discussions in Kenya are shifting away from the usual ethnic competition. For the 2022 surveys and beyond, the discourse will revolve around livelihoods and jobs. Many of the new voters of more than seven million new voters born in the past 30 years are not interested in Kenya’s history.

You want to bring food to the table and have a good life. These aspirations of the youth to face the economic challenges facing the country exacerbate the young. A protest election is likely to anger the established politicians. Recently, the price of fuel and other major commodities has skyrocketed. Month-to-month inflation has risen from 6.5 percent to over seven percent. That means people have to get by on less for the money they make. The number of cases of people developing mental health problems has increased, and the suicide rate has also increased.

Now the country is in an electoral state and that means any elected officials or candidates will try to outdo one another. If only the billions that were used for campaigns were put in a basket and used to provide water and feed to the pastoral communities, the situation would have been more acceptable. It is morally wrong to beg for support from our international development partners when we are already wasting so much money on such a worthless effort. The harsh economic environment coupled with the drought is a recipe for chaos in an election year.

-The author is the CEO of the Frontier Counties Development Council. [email protected]


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