Editor’s Note: With the general elections in Kenya getting closer day by day, WardheerNews is now going the extra mile to bring you interviews with prominent political personalities mainly in the Somali-inhabited North Eastern Province. This time, we introduce to you the well-established and outspoken politician, AhmedNadhir Omar, who is contesting the newly-created post of governor in Garissa County. In a lengthy interview with Adan Makina, our own Editorial Board Chairman, AhmedNadhir rehearses the unfolding political transformation taking place in the region and the complete political formula contained in his manifesto.
WardheerNews (WDN): Welcome to WardheerNews Mr. AhmedNadhir and could you tell us briefly about your background?
AhmedNadhir Omar:I was born and raised in Garissa. I did my elementary and high school in Garissa, having attended Jaribu Primary School and Garissa High School which I completed in 1998. Afterwards, I joined Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, where I did my Bachelor’s degree in Information Technology. I also did a number of professional courses related to management, administration and governance. Since then, I tried my hand on a number of business ventures, most importantly in the petroleum sector, and that is what I am doing to date.
WDN: Could you please give us specific information on the circumstances that led you to run for the position of governor for Garissa County?
AhmedNadhir: It’s impossible to give an isolated set of circumstances that prodded me to vie. The decision was the culmination of inter-related realities; the need for a generational shift in leadership in the region, especially in this vital transitional period in the history of this nation; the effective strangulation of our youth and their total alienation in resource allocation and governance; and the need to shed the kind of reactionary leadership that failed us for so long.
I have always been perceived as the ‘political type’, even during my school days. At an early age, and particularly during the high school days, I developed an impassioned interest in the political discourse at both the regional and national levels, but it was not the politics per se that captivated me. What really sustained my passion was the governance and administrative aspects of politics.
I have always had that sense of duty to take the initiative; to help improve any given situation – be it the class or school setting, or the family and social setting or in any of the other entrepreneurial and professional challenges I found myself and others confronted with. I always had this penchant for not shying away from the call of leadership when I felt my contribution would be needed.
WDN: In the past district leadership was based on nomination by a decree of the president. Recently that system has changed. What can you tell us about the current system of electing the governors?
AhmedNadhir: Since the early 1990s, the country has been on a democratization trajectory, even though the ride felt – and continues to feel – rather rugged and sloppy at many points. But the key is Kenya has been making some commendable progress since this labored process started. We in North Eastern Province seem to have missed that train. Our political leaders still seem to be stuck in the old sycophancy syndrome, where they feel obligated to please some ‘big man’, imaginary or otherwise, to derive sustenance and legitimacy. We are still stuck with leaders whose discourse has only one rather monotonous theme: who competes with who for the favors of big man A or B. And sadly, this democratization train is not the first we missed. 1963 was a lamentable precedent, and we had all those decades wasted.
Our people have now learnt that they can easily dislodge establishment projects, and I feel they now fully understand no godfather can anoint leaders on their behalf. After decades of tyrannical Provincial Commissioners posted at the whims of State House, we will directly elect the Governors who will administer the regions, and they will be answerable to us, the people. It is an opportunity we dare not miss.
WDN: How many candidates are currently listed to run for the post, and do they represent various parties or they are independent?
AhmedNadhir: Besides me, I am aware of 4 other candidates for the gubernatorial position, so that’s a total 5 as of this moment. I am certain some of them have already identified the parties on whose tickets they wish to vie, but others are obviously reticent, probably watching the fast-evolving national political landscape and tethering their moves to how that shapes up.
WDN: What is your political party and what is the prospect of you being elected as governor of Garissa ?
AhmedNadhir: I really have not paid as much attention to party affiliation as I have to more pressing pursuits. I invested more time on youth and professional engagement, community advocacy and grassroots mobilization. I feel these issues are more fundamental, and the political party issue has been secondary. But it is something that I attend to soon enough.
WDN: The constituency you are vying to lead has in the past suffered myriads of problems including mounting insecurity, abject poverty, limited resources, declining education, poor infrastructure, political obscurantism, insurmountable misappropriation of county treasury, and lastly but not least state oppression and marginalization. What grand scheme do you have in place to reverse these negative trends?
AhmedNadhir: My manifesto is anchored in one basic and vital idea. It is so basic that it might not even sound grand at all. But it is also so profound and immense; it is the very essence of grandeur. Our program will be predicated on the twin concepts of Rights and Responsibilities.
Rights, in the sense of realigning the existing notions of leadership with the beckoning reality of people power and popular legitimacy leaders derive from their people. A kind of re-education, if you will like is that we, the people, own the power. That we give it to those we think will exercise it to advance our common good. We have inalienable rights to determine who governs us and how. And that the government, be it County or National, ought to invest in our resources and support to sustain our rights to dignified life. And that we have the conscience and determination to take it back if the government does not honor that obligation.
But Right has a conjoined twin called responsibility; the sense of individual and collective duty to one another and to the government. While the question: what must the government do for us? Is pretty subliminal, we must instill in our people the equally sublime question: What can I do for myself, for us, for the nation? The culture of governance in this country is primarily deficient. The individual and collective psyche is programmed to fear the leadership; to forget that what is perceived as ‘favor’ is actually a ‘right’-to view the leader as the boss, when it should be the other way round. Even more crucially, to imagine that development is some manna, that rulers rain on us, without us really investing much in it.
Essentially, the grandness of our program derives from policies and instruments designed to fundamentally re-adjust our notions of Rights and recalibrate our perceptions of responsibilities. Our agricultural, administrative, educational, medical, social and economic policies will all have this notion of Right and Responsibility as a point of embarkation. Once that right balance is struck, we will be on a smooth sailing and no problems will be insurmountable.
WDN: Why is it that the concerns and interests of the Ethnic Somalis were not voiced, particularly when there are many Kenya-Somalis in the high ranks of government?
AhmedNadhir: There is not a single issue that can underline the obvious neglect of our needs by successive Kenyan governments. The most widespread narrative being peddled around is the claim that the Kenyan government – and its ‘people’- just happen to not like us. This theme, which I find rather simplistic and conspiratorial, seems to be the favorite singsong for our politicians, especially during the election season.
But we must not forget that ours is not the only neglected region. Generally speaking, the entire northern part of the country, regardless of whether the inhabitants are Turkana or Somali has been left behind.
I believe there are other more convincing reasons, chief among them, economic. The much-maligned sessional paper 65 of the 1960s comes to mind. It was essentially an economic policy where the government would only invest in regions that were agriculturally productive, condemning the pastoralist regions to a life around the periphery of the nation. And it is alive, both in letter and spirit. Incidentally, Kibaki was the architect of that monstrosity. Given the right agricultural policies, our land can equally as productive, but the climatic conditions require imagination and dexterity, something the Kenyan government hardly ever takes credit for.
I do not believe we were entirely helpless, and I am convinced there is a lot we could have done to arm-twist the government into investing more in our region. Before the advent of multiparty politics, the public may not have had much role in the politics of patronage. But even then, if we had moderately proactive leaders, they would have found a way of coaxing their godfathers to do a little more for the region. But they did not, for they had neither the will nor the intellectual capacity to conceive big ideas.
Did we learn much since the end of those days? It seems not. For the past 2 decades, we had the chance to elect our representatives, but the system of electing leaders has been fraught with so many debilities it is barely an improvement to what we had before. We elect them on a wrong approach – clan calculations and financial largesse. We do not interrogate their performance; in fact, we reward mediocrity and abject failure.
We do not use our numbers, and in democracy, you are handicapped if you do not have numbers. In the august House, Somali representatives hardly see eye-to-eye on anything. They never lobby on our behalf, because they know we will not appraise their performance. They are busy undercutting one another, and never vote as a block on anything. Development projects come to those regions whose representatives can negotiate for them in return for voting alliances that benefit the ruling parties. In our case, the government does not need to ‘bribe’ our mps with development projects; it does not have to work for the votes of our representatives.
At a popular level, presidents and presidential aspirants invest more attention and allocate more resources to regions with ‘numbers’. Our problem is, we don’t vote. Look at our major, cosmopolitan constituencies and compare the resident population with the cast votes. Our Mps are riding to parliament with total vote tallies that border on the ludicrous. In democracy, no one ever needs your brains. They need your numbers; if you can’t give them, you are just a pauper and no one gives you more than a furtive glance.
WDN: Tell us how you are different from current and past leaders when it comes to overturning the decline visible among ethnic Somalis in Garissa County?
AhmedNadhir:Like I stated earlier, I am campaigning on a platform of people power. Ours is not just about the evanescence of an individual and his political aspiration. It is something much more organic. It is a project; conceived of an honest sense of duty. It is derived from the dreams of our youth; fueled by the vitality of their vision. It is designed to engineer social revolution.
Development and underdevelopment are not just government-driven. If we really want to improve our lot, we must be honest enough and shed the victim mentality that has castrated our potential. Our politicians, past and present, love to play this victim narrative when they need votes. Our project is, first and foremost, geared towards emancipating our imagination, unlocking our internal energy and inculcating in us the philosophy of self-belief.
Our approach is different; it is about unlocking popular potential. Our philosophy is different; it is about people power. Our strategy is different; it is about youth and vitality and audacity imagination. Our ideology is different; it is about social engineering intellectual emancipation.
This is what sets us apart. This is what is changing the world. The celebrated Arab Spring is constructed on similar desires. Our program is in total lockstep with this global caravan of change.
WDN: Kenya is considered one of Africa's largest economy and East Africa's economic powerhouse, yet the Somali inhabited region is lagging behind the rest of the country. What do you think are the root causes of the lack of progress and development in Kenya's North Eastern province and what plans are you putting forth to address such issues?
AhmedNadhir: Underdevelopment has diverse, interlinked roots that result in self-perpetuating cycles. Governmental negligence, wrong-headed policies and oppression beget social and political apathy. Once people lose their dignity and drive, their productivity declines and a destructive culture of dependency is generated. Once, proud self-sufficient people are relegated to lethargic, begging masses. People become submissive to a destiny concocted for them by the exploitative status quo, because poverty breaks the spirit of endurance and ambition. And this is why our philosophy is centered on public re-education and helping create a new power discourse-an alternative system of relations between the governor and the governed. The people must understand that, while the government is the major driver of development efforts, they MUST drive the government.
Our manifesto has an attractive list of plans to overhaul the status quo. We will aim for food self-sufficiency by implementing tested agricultural policies which are suited for our climatic conditions. We also have plans to invigorate business, construction and infrastructure to diversify the economy and especially create employment for the youth. We will build youth capacity by instituting tailor-made education programs, such as adult education and technical development.
WDN: If you were to be elected governor, how are you going to enhance the growth of the county notably by eradicating extreme poverty and hunger and educating the mass, combating diseases and violation of human rights, and developmental and self-sufficiency programs?
AhmedNadhir: We have identified a number of key areas that we intend to invest time and resources in, to alleviate poverty, increase economic productivity and achieve self-sufficiency in food production. We have detailed programs, some of which we have already made available to the public.
We have singled out agricultural projects to increase food production in our county. While most of our land is water-starved, we have fertile farm land along the Tana River. With appropriate strategies, this area alone can cater for our food consumption needs. But this does not mean the rest of our land is a waste. Drip irrigation is a fantastic option for us, and many countries in arid and semi-arid regions of the world are already employing it. It minimizes water wastage and maximizes productivity. Apart from food production, it is common knowledge that our region would be very good for crops like tropical fruits, which fetch good money in any market.
Our livestock industry is inexplicably neglected and underdeveloped. We produce the bulk of cattle slaughtered for beef in Kenya. Local beef and dairy industries will create employment, improve the economic capacity of livestock farmers and help them adopt a more sedentary lifestyle suitable to the changing environmental systems.
Regarding education, we have a two-pronged plan: first, encouraging educational changes to introduce technical and vocational training for the youth. As much as is possible, we need to inject more practical aspects in our schools. Computer courses, wood work, metal work, mechanical training and similar subjects must be given more prominence, to help in job creation and small business development, and that is what we hope to achieve.
WDN: How will you create peace and harmony and advance inter-county partnership among people who have been separated by politics of self-interest ever since independence and the sweeping martial law?
AhmedNadhir: Our manifesto is laden with programs designed to empower the people and improve their lives. The conflicts we see – be they violent or structural- are a reflection of the deprived lives many of our rural folks lead. If we introduce policies designed to help every homestead put food on the table, and create employment opportunities for the youth, peace will prevail.
The irony in our conflicts is really exasperating. People fight over resources that are deemed scarce. Our people are fighting over the only resource that we have plenty of. Our land is so vast and so under-utilized, it defies logic people fight over it. We think bad politics is the culprit here, and it is that reservoir of political insanity we plan to drain. We intend to do so by advocating for and liaising with like-minded youth politicians who conduct their politics on ideological platforms, and we already have such alliances in place.
WDN: What commitments will you make to save women and children and the environment of the county you are vying for?
AhmedNadhir: Our women are industrious, indefatigable and the backbone of many families’ financial survival. Even a casual look at the small business statistics is sufficient to convince us that women are the real deal in our society. We plan to put in place specific projects aimed at improving their literacy and boosting their entrepreneurial skills. Our manifesto addresses the issue of Adult literacy, and the bulk of that will be focusing on women. And it will not be just the ‘ngumbaru’ of the old days. We will establish serious literacy programs. We will have trainings to help women improve their business and self employment chances. We plan to revolutionize our education system, so that our children can compete with the rest of the country on an equal footing. We will improve school enrollment, both in urban and rural areas.
The present health programs and facilities are fundamentally deficient, and it is women and children who are mostly affected. Our policies will be geared towards reducing child mortality, improving mother’s health and education. Our environmental policies will be implemented by capable environmental scientists, and some of them have already helped design fantastic parameters which will be used as beacons for specific polices.
WDN: How will you empower young professionals who completed high schools and colleges to either get jobs or advance their education?
AhmedNadhir: Education should not be merely about certificates, yet that has been the most serious debility in our 8-4-4 system. Look at our high school graduates; all of them have studied Math and Biology and Chemistry and Geography. How many of these subjects can help a form 4 (high school) leaver to establish a small furniture or plumbing business? Or become a vehicle mechanic? Or even building and masonry? Look around, and those businesses are booming in our region, and are entirely owned and run by non-Somalis. These are things we need to teach at the primary and secondary school level. We are now drilling students in a very rigid system that instills in them job-seeking mentality. We will work with the school administrators to introduce more practicality in the curriculum, and we will seek to subsidize some of theses studies.
WDN: Recent Kenya census indicated growth of ethnic Somalis, yet Garissa, which is among the biggest cities in Kenya and the largest in the Somali inhabited region, does not have a university. To expand the opportunity of higher education, does your plan include establishing the first university in North Eastern Kenya? Why has a university with remarkable faculties not been established in North Eastern Kenya?
AhmedNadhir: Again, the lack of universities or other institutions of higher learning is part of our complex history and status as a satellite region of Kenya. We were neglected by our own government, and we also neglected ourselves by failing to agitate for our interests and push the elected leaders. This need is one of the issues we address in our manifesto. Just one good university would have taken care of the medium-term needs of not only Garissa county but the entire province, and that is something we would like to set up in Garissa county, because it is the administrative capital of the province and is better placed to host such a regional institution.
WDN: Do you think the Constituency Development Fund (CDF) that the government allocated to your constituency has been effectively dispensed by the incumbent Member of Parliament to spur development? If the CDF kitty has been utilized effectively, which programs benefited the most? If it has been plundered, what legal action will you take if elected governor?
AhmedNadhir: I do not wish to accuse anyone of CDF plunder. I did not witness any plunder, neither do I have incontrovertible evidence to prove it. Mudslinging is one of the lamentable political cultures that we, the youth, intend to do away with, and it is something I do not wish to partake of. Having said that, I believe the CDF programs could have been handled a lot better and I think we missed a massive opportunity to efficiently manage the little resources we got from the government.
WDN: Good luck Mr. AhmedNadhir with your political endeavors and thanks for giving WDN your precious time.
AhmedNadhir: Thank you very much.