35 counties build economic blocs for faster growth

County governments are fast shedding the old district and provincial demarcations by forming trading blocs that experts say could hasten economic development of rural Kenya.

At least 35 out of the 47 county governments have joined such groupings, brought together by their common developmental interests.

Among the common targets in such economic groupings are the desire to package tourism sites as a single destination, market agricultural produce together and craft shared laws for trade and investments.

In Western Kenya, 13 governors have initiated the Lake Region Economic Blueprint while nine others from Mt Kenya region have established one for central Kenya.

Six governors from the Coast launched a socio- economic hub called Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani as their seven counterparts from North-Rift signed an agreement to work together to improve trade, investments and tourism.

The lake region bloc which was launched by President Uhuru Kenyatta during the second annual devolution conference held in Kisumu in April has set out their blueprints aimed at catalysing the region’s economic development through targeted joint investments.

It is expected to be a one-stop shop for investors seeking opportunities in member counties including Bungoma, Busia, Homa Bay, Kakamega, Kisii, Kisumu, Migori, Nyamira, Siaya and Vihiga— with Bomet, Trans Nzoia and Kericho being other entrants.

Kisumu Governor Jack Ranguma said the blueprint would enable individual counties that are sometimes too small to leverage economies of scale to jointly implement massive projects.

“Many counties are grappling with insufficient resources to meet competing needs in the county. This is the reason we in the Lake Basin decided to pull together,” Mr Ranguma said in an interview.

Among the seven key projects to be undertaken are agricultural commodities exchange, developing a regional bank, specialist hospitals and educational centres of excellence in each county, creating a Lake region ring road and tourism circuit.

Lamu, Kilifi, Kwale, Mombasa, Tana River and Taita Taveta counties have also collaborated to solve various challenges facing the region, including resuscitating tourism, education and fighting insecurity. They also hope to take over management of maritime activities.

Kwale Governor Salim Mvurya who chairs the Jumuiya said their merger would stimulate faster development in the region which had largely been neglected by previous regimes.

“Individual counties have been experiencing similar problems in both social and economic sectors. But through this joint platform, we want to spearhead equitable economic development, thus improving standards of living and quality of life,” said Mr Mvurya during the official launch at Fort Jesus.

Other areas mapped out to be addressed are similar to those of Western Kenya except that coastal counties have laid more emphasis on exploitation of natural resources like mining, water and land.

“We should be allowed to control and benefit directly from our resources like the Port of Mombasa, the expansive Tsavo East and West National Parks and bulk waters found in our counties which currently are under the National government,” Taita Taveta Governor John Mruttu said.

The main focus for Mt Kenya region is to encourage inter-trade between Tharaka-Nithi, Meru, Nyeri, Laikipia, Murang’a, Kiambu, Nyandarua, Embu and Kirinyaga counties.

Under the trade arrangement, the small governments have come up with a memorandum of understanding that will help local businesses thrive.

Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago expressed optimism that North Rift would be an economic hub once they elevate tourism sector to world-class standards and harness lakes and river basins for irrigation.

Turkana, Nandi, Uasin Gishu, Elgeyo Marakwet, West Pokot and Trans Nzoia are robust in either cereal and horticultural production or minerals such as petroleum and limestone that they have been discussing ways to exploit.