This paper reflects on the work of the Ministry of State for Development of Northern Kenya and other Arid Lands between its formation in April 2008 and the elections of March 2013. The paper begins by summarising the historical, political and institutional contexts within which the Ministry was created, as well as the multiple narratives that have driven policy in Kenya’s drylands over time (section 1). It explains some of the policy choices the Ministry made in interpreting its mandate and shaping the policy agenda. The paper reflects on the response of different actors to the policy space opened up by the establishment of the Ministry, and looks at how it implemented its mandate and its day-to-day engagement with others. The authors discuss the institutional framework in more detail and the steps required to strengthen it further. The paper concludes with reflections and recommendations.