OGWANG: Devolution has been a boon for trade and economy

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By YVONNE OGWANG
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The joy of being somewhere is the vibrancy and the ambience the place brings. I remember the excitement back in the day when I was a little girl and my mother would send me to the market in Oyugis, Homa Bay County.

I would go directly to our favourite seller to by what was needed. But each time what kept on crossing my mind was, “why is this place so unkempt?” “who takes care of this place?” 

Many years later, that would be the same picture I would get and, being older and more educated, I understood that the municipal council was the one taking care of the market and similar amenities. I must admit that in the past five years, I have not returned home until recently. When I did, I was amazed at the development I found. The roads were better and more accessible, and the market that I once knew to be unkempt was more organised and developed. This is all attributed to devolution. 

Having constitutional reforms and particularly adopting a devolved system of governance was the best thing that happened to Kenya because this meant enhanced service delivery, equitable share of resources across the country, development especially in parts of Kenya that were considered to be marginalised, increased public participation, inclusiveness, national unity and enhanced accountability in governmental processes. 

One of the areas that was devolved to county governments was trade, which I must attest has shown great improvement and growth from what it was less than five years ago. What has been achieved has improved lives. 

In the current dispensation, fresh produce markets stand at 651, an increase from 362 before the inception of devolution. Cooperatives at the grassroots are the order of the day because of the benefits and profits that farmers and traders have received.

Through devolution, county governments have made the case of cooperative enterprise as a pillar of the economy and a stabilising counterweight to investor enterprises. In 2013. cooperatives were at 4,756, but in the last three years, they stand at 6,366 – an impressive growth rate of 47 per cent.

The membership that was at 1,968,074 rose to 2,526,846 within that time span, making the returns of cooperatives to rise from Sh35.13 billion to Sh56 billion. Cooperatives are indeed promising to secure reliable streams of capital for members and potential investors in the counties.

As a way of enhancing development, various county governments have been able to hold investor forums and conferences that would inform potential investors about the opportunities that lie within the counties. Some of the counties that have had investment forums are: Machakos, Kisii, Bungoma, Trans Nzoia, Kilifi and Homa Bay.

The subjects involved have been diverse, including manufacturing, agro-processing and horticulture, banking and financial services, trade and tourism, infrastructure development, real estate, mining, energy and water resources, health services and education development.

Each of these investment forums are estimated to have attracted 7,000 to 10,000 participants. The essence of having these forums is to ensure that the economy improves.

In one of the investment forums, the county was able to sign deals worth Sh21 billion. Among the key deals is a construction of sugar factory in the county, a low-cost housing project and improving internet infrastructure in that county.

County governments have also indicated they will be working in economic blocs. These include the Lake Region Economic Bloc, North Rift Economic Bloc, Frontier Counties Development Council, Jumuia ya Kaunti za Pwani, Mount Kenya and Aberdare, South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc, where they can have intergovernmental deals on trade to leverage on economies of scale.

The economic blocs are supposed to ease access to amenities like hospitals, markets, professional services and they can also have tariff and non-tariff barriers. This has been an achievement that the pioneer county government has done to ensure that trade gets better in the counties and investor relations are improved. 

The Fourth Annual Devolution Conference is coming up in March and one of the plenary sessions will have discussions on trade. The objective of this session will be advancing structural reforms towards creating an enabling business environment.

One of the issues that the plenary will cover is how counties can achieve and sustain their own regional businesses.

 
The writer works at the Council of Governors

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