Regional blocs the way to go for counties

Wednesday May 27 2015

Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto speaks during the second Devolution Conference in Kisumu on April 23, 2015. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP

Bomet Governor Isaac Ruto speaks during the second Devolution Conference in Kisumu on April 23, 2015. The Governor has said he will not stop criticising the government. PHOTO | TOM OTIENO | NATION MEDIA GROUP 

Kenya has undergone the process of devolution and one of the emerging consequences is the reality that sub-national governments have become more significant due to the transfer of political, fiscal, and administrative authority from the national to the regional level.

Given that our devolution is in its infancy, it is important to focus on how it can be leveraged for positive socio-economic development, particularly through the creation of sub-national or regional blocs that unite populations and leverage shared resources and economic zones.

One great benefit of the creation of sub-national regional blocs such as the Lake Region Economic Blueprint, which President Uhuru Kenyatta launched during the second Devolution Conference in Kisumu, is that it allows small, economically challenged individual counties to leverage economies of scale.

Regional blocs mean that rather than investment operating in a market of, say, 600,000 people, it can operate in a market of over 10 million. It would be much harder for individual counties working in isolation to garner the investment required to spur economic development on their own.

A regional focus allows counties to use the strengths of neighbouring counties to garner sufficient clout and significance to mobilise substantial investment.

Sub-national cooperation can also be a powerful catalyst for wealth creation. Nairobi alone is said to currently contribute 60 per cent of Kenya’s GDP.

From a different perspective, this is like putting all your eggs in one basket. If the wealth generation capacity of the nation’s capital were to be compromised, the whole country would be negatively affected.

MARGINALISED

Further, this hyper-concentration of wealth and opportunity in the capital means that rural areas, where most Kenyans live, are marginalised from these wealth generation opportunities.

By creating viable regional blocs, the opportunities for investment and capital accumulation are spread to other parts of the country. By uniting economies and populations, sub-national blocs can create customised incentives that make particular sense to their region and attract investment that once seemed viable only in larger cities.

Further, regionalism allows closer analysis of competitive advantage and how to target metropolitan areas in close proximity as strategic assets.

Rather than one large city becoming the only point of reference, other cities and towns can be assessed with a view to making them a nexus for growth, centres of job creation, and focuses that garner new investment.

Another important point is that regionalism can be a powerful force against tribalism. These blocs are likely to unite populations of different ethnic backgrounds and create an environment in which the most benefits will accrue to each group when the focus is on inter-tribal development strategies that generate benefits for all.

Given the numerous benefits of regional bloc creation, it will not be surprising to see counties start to come together in the spirit of cooperation, and this should be encouraged.

Alignment of regional plans with the national medium-term plans (MTPs) and Vision 2030 ensures that, as a country, we are all moving in the same strategic direction.

Mr Lubembe is director, Public Sector, at Deloitte East Africa [email protected]