By Raila Odinga
Transforming Kenya from a poor to a prosperous country will require a very deliberate focus on turning around the fortunes of rural Kenya.
As Prime Minister, I championed slum upgrading as a means of ensuring those fleeing rural areas do not end up in more deplorable urban dwellings.
President Uhuru Kenyatta has championed urban regeneration especially in his second term.
Going forward, and to ensure a more balanced growth, Urban Regeneration will need to go hand in hand with a very deliberate policy of Rural Transformation that makes rural life more livable and migration to cities unnecessary.
Where our policies have encouraged rural-urban migration, we will need approaches that encourage rural-urban integration.
For Rural Transformation, we will need to:
• Pursue massive investment in development planning specific to rural areas.
• Pursue massive investment in rural infrastructure as a long-term and ever evolving priority in national development.
• Provide reliable and cheap electricity.
• Provide clean water.
• Provide good public schools. Children and parents in rural areas must be confident that the education they are receiving is not in any way inferior to that of their counterparts in urban areas.
• Invest in food production. Investment in food production is particularly important. In the years ahead, we should not have rural Kenya where people call themselves farmers while they go to bed on empty stomachs.
• Provide reliable, efficient and quality health care resources.
Rural-Urban Integration is already taking roots silently across all parts of rural Kenya. It is coming in the form of new trading centres emerging to compete established towns. Here are a few examples:
• In Southern Nyanza, Rodi Kopany is growing into and competing Homa Bay town.
• Awendo is competing Migori.
• Kisii is growing into the metropolis for the southern Nyanza region.
• In central Kenya, Saba Saba, Maragua, Mbombo and Mukuyu are emerging as towns competing Muranga town.
• Chaka emerging as the fastest growing urban center competing the old Nyeri town.
• Up in Tharaka Nithi, Kathwana trading centre is emerging alongside Chogoria as competitors of the old Chuka Town.
• In Busia, Bumala and Matayos are emerging as alternatives to Busia Town.
• Khayega and Malava are emerging as alternatives to the old Kakamega town as Mbale emerges as alternative to Vihiga. These new centres are already pulling people away from the land in rural areas.
But even in urbanized societies of the developed world, there will always be people not keen on moving to towns and will remain behind to do farming. I expect that to happen here. How do we make use of this development?
• The government will need to move in and ensure a coordinated and planned growth.
• This will ensure those who remain on the farms can do farming on a commercial scale while the towns provide the market for the produce.
• The government will have to provide the farmers with high yielding seeds, help them with reclamation of the land and preservation of water sources and all else they need to feed the emerging towns and the entire nation.
• The government will also need to step in and help farmers secure drying machines and storage facilities.
• The informal food markets where food is bought and sold for most rural areas are not efficiently organized. Often these are congested with produce stands sitting next to each other, often on roadside. That will need to change.
• The government will also need to help the farmers transport food from where surplus is to where it is in short supply.
The end result will be the creation of functional and rich villagers who have money their pockets living dignified and decent life in rural Kenya. It has been done in other countries. I believe it can be done in Kenya.