Kenya is currently grappling with a problem so significant that it should be declared a national disaster- our counties are underperforming. The 2023 Gross County Product Report has exposed two major challenges facing our counties, which we can potentially transform into unmatched opportunities.
The first challenge resides in county productivity. Our national cake is half-baked, producing far below our capabilities. Nairobi’s contribution of 27.5% to the economy is the only one in double digits, followed by Kiambu’s 5.9%. Shockingly, the ten counties contributing the least to the economy have collectively added only 4.6%, even less than Nakuru’s 4.9%.
The economic productivity of these bottom ten counties is undoubtedly below par, yet they are brimming with economic opportunities. Among them are Lamu, Tana River, and Taita Taveta, three coastal counties abundant with blue economy opportunities and surrounded by a National game Parks. According to a study by the UN International Organization for Migration (IOM), the blue economy could contribute USD 4.8 billion to the Kenyan economy from 2020–2030. Thus, it is imperative that these counties expedite the implementation of existing blue economy strategies. I propose that the Governors of these counties annually report progress in harnessing the blue economy to their residents.
This approach should be universally adopted. Every county in Kenya has a development strategy, but the obstacle lies in their implementation. While millions have been spent on planning and benchmarking, billions should now be garnered through execution. For enhanced efficiency, focus, and accountability, I humbly suggest that each County specializes in a flagship product and service. This successful approach, initiated by Governor Hiramatsu in Oita Prefecture (County), Japan, in the 1970s, has also tangibly benefited Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia by promoting regional development. Why not Kenya?
This leads me to the second challenge that can be converted into opportunity — chronic development deficiencies in forty counties, as unveiled by the 2023 Gross County Product Report. The Public Finance Management Act mandates that a minimum of 30% of County funds be allocated to development. Regrettably, only seven counties have complied. Forty counties are blatantly contravening this law.
Take Nairobi, which expended merely fifteen percent on development, and Kiambu, which spent only 10.2%. On average, the 47 counties allocate only 22.8% to development, while doubling that on salaries. Isn’t this equation critically flawed?
Governors can only be partly blamed as there appear to be inherent structural and systemic issues in the way counties operate. I suggest that President Ruto passionately initiates a well-coordinated candid intercounty conversation to spearhead resolutions on this extremely urgent matter. The basic essence of devolution was to ensure a cascade, not merely a trickle, of national and County resources reaching Kenyans at the grassroots level.
To effectively transform these challenges into opportunities, counties must rejuvenate and maximize the utility of regional economic blocs.
The Bomas draft constitution had proposed fourteen counties to eradicate the colonial ethnic demarcation of Districts. While that proposal is in the past, we cannot seem to allow counties to function as ethnic blocs, which has evidently compromised their productivity. They must, therefore, deliberately unite through regional economic blocs in a complementary fashion.
Consider these statistics — forty of our counties are contributing an average of below 2.1 percent to the national economy; thirty counties contribute an average of below 1 percent to manufacturing. To change this narrative, we must act decisively through one more statistic – seventy-five percent of Kenya’s population is under 30 years of age.
Our youth are our greatest asset, embodying the entrepreneurial spirit of the era. Consequently, they must be entrenched at the very heart of both County and National Development. Indeed, I suggest that we boldly embark on a comprehensive audit of youth-responsiveness to our county development plans and the staggering results, once actualized, will indelibly transform our nation. Just like a tree steadfastly grows, life demands our daily steps toward the right direction; we must stop being crying babies because our future generations look up to us as their beacon of hope. Think green, act green!