Dear readers, sorry for the long silence. I blame it on the super-slow internet connectivity offered by Safaricom in western Kenyan. Back here in Nairobi things are a bit more normal. Over the next few days I shall post a series of blogs that I wrote but never published for one reason or another.
As promised, here is the comparison between Siaya and Bondo.
Siaya is the older town, and has been district headquarters in the wider Alego and Ugenya areas for quite some time. Bondo on the other hand is a “younger” town (I use ‘young’ here loosely, I don’t quite know when it was founded) and only became district headquarters due to the influence of the Odinga family which calls it its home town. A son of the older Odinga, Raila Odinga, is Kenya’s Prime Minister.
The contrast between the two towns is a lesson in African/Kenyan political economy of development. Siaya, lacking a big man in the capital (Aringo was forever in the opposition and Yinda and Weya are total non-starters) has lagged behind Bondo in many respects. Bondo has a teachers’ training college that has recently been made into a university college. It has a nice tarmac road linking it to Kisumu, the provincial capital. Right now the roads within Bondo are being done. The road linking Bondo and Siaya is also being done. But within Siaya nothing is happening as far as the roads are concerned, despite the sizable motorcycle and matatu traffic. The road linking Siaya and Kisumu is full of pot holes. The lesson here is that it matters to have someone high up in Nairobi.
The similarities, to me at least, are more interesting. Both towns are filled with small scale shops selling the same stuff – small dukas and “supermarkets”, bicycle and motorcycle repair shops, hardware stores, mobile airtime shops etc. Diversification has not taken root in either town. Even the good roads do not appear to have helped Bondo in this respect. There is also a serious shortage of green vegetables in both. I am told the shortages in kales in particular last between August and March (Kenyan entrepreneurs, are you reading?). I asked if there is a close place nearby where one can source vegetables but was told that the best way to go about it is to “import” the stuff all the way from Nairobi.
My two-day focus on this vegetable thing has taught me that the problem appears to be the fact that all the vegetable farming in this area is rain-fed and are therefore highly seasonal. No one has so far bothered to go large-scale and use some irrigation. Digging a borehole or pumping water from a nearby stream is not that hard. The cost of digging a borehole in the village is no more than $ 800. It is not the cost that is prohibitive, it is collective action that remains elusive – even in this ethnically homogenous part of Kenya.
Just as an aside, my experiences in Siaya so far have made me come to the conclusion that poverty and underdevelopment are, to a large extent, a state of mind. I have mingled with a few local people from Nairobi’s upper middle class and even they seem to traffic in the notion that it is the duty of government and God to run their lives.