I stood with the police commander at Mandera’s border post. A few hundred metres to my left across Dawa River was Ethiopia. In front of me, just beyond the border fence, was Somalia. This community, like those in Wajir and Garissa – that I have also visited in Kenya’s North East over the past few months – sit at the heart of a vibrant, but insecure region.
It is a region of huge potential, of inspiring communities proud of their culture, ambitious for their children’s future, and tired of feeling marginalised. It is a region sadly blighted by the menace of Al Shabaab.
It is a region too often thought of solely as a barrier, a buffer to what may come over the border. This means underlying drivers of insecurity and underdevelopment, which continue to hold back Kenya’s human capital and economic potential, are often left unaddressed. Foreign investors are nervous and tourists deterred.
Devolution has delivered many successes, and I was delighted to visit Mandera with Devolution Cabinet Secretary Eugene Wamalwa. Outcomes in the devolved sector in general, and the health sector in particular, have dramatically improved.
However, other functions including education and infrastructure are still not sufficiently achieving desired results. Schools in these counties are often without teachers, power is unreliable, while roads are rough and untarmacked. Opportunities for young people are few, making them vulnerable to the siren call of Al Shabaab.
I acknowledge the historic part Britain has played in this region. The pre-independence referendum result sent a clear message that was not sufficiently acknowledged. Since then successive national governments have pursued a security-focused approach that has, at times, punished those communities.
Devolution has allowed this narrative to be changed. This is why I am delighted that the approach I discussed with both local and national governments is one that is now looking to combine security with development, peace-building and community solutions.
It is indeed time to try a new, more positive approach. We collectively need to focus more on the root causes of instability – not just the symptoms. Education and economic investment should be the focus. A managed, open border with Somalia is a potential source of revenue for Kenya; revenue that currently ends up in the pockets of Al Shabaab, or lost to corruption.
Consistent, reliable power will enable small industries. Tarmacked roads will take the goods they produce to new markets and open up access to services. Most of all, schools need teachers. Comprehensive access to education is a success Kenya can be rightly proud of. And this national achievement now needs to be replicated in the North East.
Imaginative solutions are required to help young people from the region reach their potential. We need to prevent another lost generation falling into the hands of those whose twisted ideology kills indiscriminately and robs these children of a future.
Ms Marriott is the British High Commissioner to Kenya