Ideas & Debate

Make counties epicentres of trade, job and wealth creation


A county has the constitutional role of building democracy and promoting socio-economic development. It is the sphere of government closest to local business and communities, tasked with ensuring growth and development in such communities.

As such, counties require clear policy direction, technical capacity, skills and funding to create an environment that promotes development.

This is because social and economic devolution is about people managing their local development affairs, developing their potential and setting their own development priorities sensitive to local realities.

The greatest potential for development support exists at the county level, with a focus on attracting investments, creating jobs and boosting demand. A devolved unit's role has expanded from providers of public goods and basic social services to include local economic development initiatives.

With each county identifying its uniqueness, potential and comparative advantage; progress will be definite. Vision 2030 cannot oust the Constitution. It is for Vision 2030 to change and conform to the constitutional reality of devolved governance and development policy by ensuring long-term predictable socio-economic policies at the county level. The Supreme Court of Kenya legal opinion No 2 of 2013 shredded the centralised system of development responsible for uneven, unequal and exclusive socio-economic growth.

The Constitution requires county governments to be developmental and to promote participatory citizenship. Local communities have the right to socio-economic development.

Counties are expected to source and tap sectoral knowledge and expertise on governance, spatial economic development planning and sourcing for economic investments, ensuring institutional and socio-economic infrastructure that cuts off duplication and operating with less costs but yielding high impact results.

Among the main objectives of devolution was to ensure development across the country including marginalised areas. For a county government to be an effective enabler of business, it must embrace good governance practices. This means the co-ordination of all initiatives, clear policy formulation, well-planned interventions and creation of quality physical and economic enabling environments.

Counties have a role to provide leadership, direction and policy guidelines; create an enabling economic environment and facilitate the implementation of local economic development (LED ) projects.

They also need to support small businesses, formulate creative innovation and solutions for local challenges, maximise local resources, and develop local skills.

In other words, a county’s role is to remove barriers for development and show strong leadership and co-ordination with effective service delivery. LED requires clear leadership, which has not been forthcoming.

County economic development initiatives capitalise on networks of public and private partners for success. These initiatives feature a wide range of activities from workforce training, regional marketing and business recruitment and retention to infrastructure financing, small business support, business incubators, disaster preparedness, industry diversification and international economic development. The big question is: What are local governments doing to spur private investment and job creation?

County resilience is based on the strength of the economy. A county’s ability to thrive depends on the prosperity of its people, the success of local businesses and availability of financial resources. Counties participate in economic development activities in response to the specific challenges faced by their local economies.

The main constraints faced by county governments in delivering results are poor analysis of local economies, unsustainable community development projects, lack of capacity, and lack of resources. Improved integration and co-operation between stakeholders and different county government departments is required to avoid duplication of tasks.

Rural communities are in need of strong county governments but have instead weak governance structures with lack of information, skills, funding and capacity. It is crucial that county governments put in place economic development policies that focus on inclusive economies, maximising local resources, opportunities and competitive advantages, and addressing local basic needs.

County governments should partner and develop comprehensive and integrated trade, industrialisation and cooperative policies that identify competitive advantages of each county on trade and industrialisation.

Further, the policies should mandate the governments to participate in trade negotiations.