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Industrialisation dream keeps county executives awake eight years later

ongwae

Council of Governors Vice Chairman Governor James Ongwae speaking during the 7th Devolution Conference held at Makueni County on Friday, November 26, 2021. PHOTO | DENNIS ONSONGO | NMG

Summary

  • Some of the industrial, housing, health and food security projects hang in the balance due to protracted land disputes.
  • Trans Nzoia executive (CEC) in charge of trade, commerce and industry Simon Kisegei says land scarcity has forced the county to go for a storey market to decongest the old open-air market.
  • In Nandi County, plans to build 10,000 houses under the Big 4 Agenda hang in the balance due to protracted land ownership disputes.

Eight years into the system of devolution, counties are yet to meet their lofty goals of transforming into centres of industrial production. Space and capital from local and international investors are their nightmares.

Their plans involved transforming agricultural land into commercial use, targeting largely value addition to maximise on the mainstay agriculture activities.

The growing demand for land to do this is, however, outstripping available space, disrupting plans by the devolved units to implement strategic projects under the national government’s Big 4 Agenda and attract more investors to set up businesses.

Some of the industrial, housing, health and food security projects, for instance, hang in the balance due to protracted land disputes.

Trans Nzoia County is, for example, seeking to acquire 50 acres from the Kenya Prisons Service and another 400 acres from the Kenya Forest Service (KFS) to expand Kitale Town and its industrial development.

“We have petitioned the national government to give us part of the land in town to enable us realise our expansion plan for Kitale town which is already congested,” Patrick Khaemba, the governor, told the Business Daily.

The county is eyeing forest land at the Kitale industrial park to meet its expansion plans.

“We have to expand this town because the current population of 200,000 has outlived its colonial plan, which was meant for about 45,000 people,” said the governor.

Business park

It is also a race against time for the county to complete a Sh849 million modern business park to accommodate 5,000 business people and enhance revenue collection to Sh300 million annually.

The county also wants to enter a deal with the Kenya Railways Corporation to lease part of its idle land within Kitale town to accommodate new stalls for traders who sell by the roadside.

Trans Nzoia executive (CEC) in charge of trade, commerce and industry Simon Kisegei says land scarcity has forced the county to go for a storey market to decongest the old open-air market and accommodate more traders.

“Plans are at an advanced stage to expand Bondeni market after we received funding from Africa Development Bank and National Housing Corporation,” disclosed Mr Kisegei.

Land shortage has also derailed the implementation of a Sh2 billion project by Turkish investors.

The businessmen were targeting maize milling and animal feed production to boost agri-business in the grain-growing region.

Laban Onditi, a director of Export Processing Zone Authority (EPZ), tied loss of investment to scarcity of land, saying it was a big threat to counties playing their part in helping Kenya to industrialise by 2030.

Value addition

“The financiers planned to construct modern silos for proper storage of grains and guarantee farmers ready market for their maize produce at competitive rates through value addition,” said Mr Onditi.

This is a common story in many counties, where first-term governors are hoping to complete similar projects to appease voters, while second-term chiefs are keen to complete legacy projects.

In Nandi County, plans to build 10,000 houses under the Big 4 Agenda hang in the balance due to protracted land ownership disputes.

Governor Stephen Sang said that most of these disputes are in court, and, therefore, the developers have no option but to wait for the wheels of justice to turn before pushing ahead with their plans.

“As much as we are committed to implementing this noble project under the Big 4 Agenda, land ownership wrangles remain our main impediment,” said Mr Sang.

The county entered an agreement with the National Housing Corporation (NHC) two years ago to construct the houses in three years.

“Some of the protracted land disputes are in court and we have no alternative land on which to construct houses in Kapsabet and Nandi Hills township,” said Mr Sang.

The governor took issue with private landowners over grabbing of public utility land meant for implementation of public projects.

Nandi County is also struggling to find 1,000 acres for construction of an industrial park in Kapsabet town.

Insecurity fears

For those counties that have ample land for development, the lack of private sector funding for such projects is yet another hurdle that they are struggling with.

Baringo County is hoping to roll out mineral exploration and sports tourism to tap new investment in the region.

However, limitations in infrastructure development and, in some, cases insecurity remains an impediment, forcing would-be investors to look elsewhere.

Far-flung counties are also finding it harder to compete with their peers in more developed areas — for instance, those near Nairobi — where infrastructure, services and labour are more readily available.

A lack of diversity in the opportunities that counties have been dangling to investors is also a concern, leaving them competing against each other instead of working together to maximise investment inflows.

Many counties are, for instance, eyeing agricultural value addition and industrial parks, while not enough emphasis has been put on sectors such as ICT and financial services which have been leading in foreign direct inflow surveys.

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