Tana River Governor Dhadho Gaddae Godhana is locked is a bitter tussle with local political class and pastoralists over the location Tana River County headquarters, with Hola Town deemed unsuitable for lack of planning of a modern urban centre.
Simply put, Dr Godhanasay Hola Town cannot be overhauled to give it the face of a modern town with streets, pavements, lighting, estates, etc.
Doing so would mean having to demolish all unplanned buildings, including dozens of condemned buildings that once accommodated senior civil servants.
Dr Godhana says it is difficult to attract investors in such a scenario and that it will be impossible for the county’s residents to benefit from the Lamu Port, South Sudan, and Ethiopia Transport (Lapset) corridor that is set to pass through neighbouring Garissa County.
“Although the Lapsset project will not pass through this county, there are benefits we will definitely reap from it, but we must position ourselves,” he says.
Hola Town is sandwiched between the River Tana in the North, Hola/Tana Irrigation and Settlement Scheme and Mikinduni, Watta Omara and Bula Salama villages in the south.
The town can only expand westwards where there is plenty of uninhabited land.
That is why Dr Godhana has chosen Dayate, a remote scarcely area in Wayu Ward, about 10 kilometers from Hola Town.
In his dream, the retired army major and holder of a bachelor’sdegree in development studies and two honorary doctorate degrees sees, a vibrant and economically viable Hola Town that can turn around the county’s prospects. For this dream to come true, he believes the town should be expanded by extending its boundaries to Dayate where there is ample space for commercial, industrial and administrative activities. Hola Town can be retained as county headquarters.
“The dream is big. We want to turn all our urban centres into economic satellites of the major towns, but we must start with Hola. The objective is to give our county a competitive edge by making our county headquarters a hub of socio-economic transformation,” the governor states his position.
The process, he says, is in line with his government’s urbanisation blueprint and Kenya’s Vision 2030, in which the urbanisation agenda within the economic pillar seeks to improve the prosperity of all regions.
Lack of information and a clear strategy on how the multi-million exercise will be implemented has become fodder for the governor’s critics. They cannot understand whether the governor is talking about relocating the county headquarters or county government offices.
Hola Townis the gazetted county headquarters and moving headquarters to Dayate would require county assembly approval.The process has not been started.
Instead, the governor has conferred Hola Town municipality status and appointed a board to manage it, causing more confusion.Theboard was sworn in towards the end of last year and retired educationist Enos Mwaruka appointed chair.
While inaugurating the board, the governor reiterated that it was clear that the old planning of Hola Town could no longer serve the expanded needs of the town’s population that he said had grown rapidly in the recent past.
“Planning for our major urban centre, Hola, needs to take another dimension where opportunities will fully be harnessed while challenges are addressed to enable us competitively position Tana River as the next frontier for social and economic dimensions,” he said.
He said for this to be realised, there was need to have a robust municipality that would not only plan for infrastructural development and other agents of development, but also look at ways of creating job opportunities for the county’s unemployed youth.
“My critics, some of them highly educated people, say that changing Hola into a municipality is not a priority. I can assure you that the things that they perceive as priorities will be achieved easily with Hola as a municipality,” he said.
During the Jamhuri Day celebrations on December 12 last year, the five Members of Parliament from the county ganged up against Godhana, accusing him of making important decisions without consulting them.
They tongue-lashed him, accusing him of having lopsided priorities.
They said the idea of relocating the county headquarters, though good, was not as important as solving the myriads of problems facing residents and vowed to fight the move.
Through the chairman of the Tana River County Political Caucus, who is also Bura MP Ali Wario, the legislators threatened to take the governor to court for allegedly flouting the constitutional requirement of public participation.
The other MPs are Senator Juma Wario, Woman Representative Rehema Hassan, Galole and Carsen MPSaid Buya Hiribae and Ali Wario Guyo.
It is then that the governor stated that he had all along been misunderstood.
“There is a difference between relocating the county headquarters and relocating the county government offices.Hola Town remains the county headquarters, but we are talking about relocating the county government offices,” he argues.
Godhana said his urbanisation agenda was in line with the Urban Centres and Cities Act, which he said allowed every county to have at least one municipality. He said he was also working within the provisions of the Physical Planning Act, which provides for spatial planning.
The legislators are not the only ones opposed to the proposed move to Dayate. The farming and pastoralist communities are also opposed to it.
The Pokomo, who live along the River Tana argue that moving the county headquarters to Dayate will deny them development projects. The pastoralist Orma community also say their grazing land will be taken away.
Two residents have already filed a constitutional petition in the High Court at Malindi seeking to stop the governor, his government and the local county assembly from executing he move.
Suleiman Abarufa Komora and Lakicha Hassan Elema, through lawyer Duncan Okubasu, say the respondents have made a decision to relocate the headquarters of Tana River county Dayate without citizen participation.
Mr Okubasu says the decision to relocate the headquarters without consultation is contrary toArticle 10 and 201 of the 2010 Constitution and Section 87 of the County Government Act.
Hola is a remote town situated along River Tana, some 210 kilometers north of Malindi Town and 150 kilometers south of Garissa Town, started as a detention camp for hardcore Mau freedom fighters in the 1950s.
It later became an administrative town when the headquarters of the then Tana River District (present day Tana River County) was moved from Kipini to Hola as it was considered central.
Hola Town does not have a master-plan. It has no streets while houses are haphazardly built in the midst of prospis juliflora (mathenge) tree shrubs.
In the first years of devolution, locals who had the privilege of getting employment and contracts from the then county government hurriedly acquired land and built permanent houses without any approval plans.