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Counties with the best chances to become economic giants

Tuesday March 13 2012

Tourists take photos as a lion rests in the expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Photo/FITourists take photos as a lion rests in the expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Narok county is home to the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve that boasts the presence of the Big Five. Photo/FILELE

Tourists take photos as a lion rests in the expansive Maasai Mara Game Reserve. Narok county is home to the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve that boasts the presence of the Big Five. Photo/FILE 

By CHEGE MUIGAI [email protected]

The beauty of a devolved system of government is that it hands the reigns of socio-economic development to the masses, who, in turn, show more motivation to perform than the technocrats in air-conditioned offices in the world’s capitals.

Many economic analysts expect the new Kenyan Constitution to be the catalyst that this country has, for decades, needed to bring sleeping economic giants to life.

Different parts of the country possess different economic strengths that can benefit from a more focused and closer leadership, which governors and representative councils sitting in each of the 47 counties will be expected to offer. Here are some of the counties which could thrive under the new system and go on to become dominant economic regions:



Turkana is a key focus of Kenya Vision 2030 programmes and will be the final node before the railway, road and oil pipeline from Lamu enter South Sudan.


This county will draw massive benefits arising from logistical and administrative functions, and control of the key developments.

That aside, Turkana sits on one of the world’s largest proven gold reserves and also has a respectable array of gemstones. This laid-back region could be looking at the kind of transformation that was experienced by the South African region of Rustenburg with the discovery of platinum.



Quite literally, Narok is the bread basket of Kenya, with a sizeable chunk of the wheat, corn and tomatoes consumed in Nairobi coming from this vast county endowed with fertile farmlands and a reliable climate.

The county is also home to the world-famous Maasai Mara Game Reserve that boasts the presence of the Big Five, the natural wonder that is the wildebeest migration corridor and, perhaps, one of the world’s most diverse wildlife concentration areas.


Kitui, Taita Taveta

In 2005, a 500-square-kilometre area stretching through Kitui and Mutito was discovered to contain one of the richest coal reserves in the world.

Chinese and other interested parties have been scrambling to exploit this vast reserve and it is now only a matter of time before we see the rise of one of Africa’s largest mining regions in the Mui Basin.

But Kitui’s good fortune is not just about the coal; there exists vast proven reserves of iron ore and gemstones that a county government can exploit to develop the area.

Along with Kitui are the Kerio Valley and Taita Taveta regions, which together, carry the biggest chunk of the key minerals found in Kenya. Saphires, tanzanites, iron ore and manganese are found in commercially viable quantities in Taita Taveta, while counties in the expanse of the Kerio Valley have enough gold, fluorite and limestone to completely transform the Kenyan economy.

Kerio Valley also has one of the most underrated sceneries in the world, in which the Kerio Valley Game Reserve lies. This is an area that carries serious tourism potential if well packaged and marketed.



If you could just add the cowboys, Laikipia would be the Texas of Kenya. Most of this expansive county is in the hands of private ranchers.

In terms of millionaire residents, Laikipia has to be at the very top in Kenya. Over half of all Kenyan-registered planes are owned by ranch owners from this county. Giant dairy, wheat and horticultural farms call this area home, as does the biggest military air base in the country (the British still use this county for their tropical armed forces training).

Essentially still a white man’s county, it is easily one of those areas that have the potential to become one of Kenya’s economic bastions if blessed with proper leadership.



For some of the reasons that have helped Kiambu prosper in the past, Machakos County, Nairobi’s eastern neighbour, is home to important industrial and residential centres like Athi River and Mlolongo.

Sadly, the developments do not extend to most parts of the huge county, but that is about to change when a planned technology city development is finalised.

Down the road from the junction town of Makutano ya Chumvi will be what is being billed as the continent’s first techie city. Built to the book, it will become the world’s third IT magnet after Silicon Valley in California, USA, and Bangalore in eastern India.

This project will attract talent from all over the world through a range of incentives, and it is planned to have state-of-the-art shopping facilities as well as a university.

What all this will do in the end is create a modern economic centre with a cosmopolitan outlook whose impact on the country, Africa and the world is massive. Machakos will obviously become the biggest beneficiary as the home county.

Already, the benefits are being felt around the site in Konza, where land prices have reached a record high.


Uasin Gishu, Trans Nzoia

The worth of the North Rift as an economic powerhouse cannot be sniffed at. Maize, wheat and milk conceal the other strengths this area possesses; a regional trading and transportation hub.

Eldoret is home to one of Kenya’s international airports, which is fast becoming the cargo centre of choice for many international traders owing to its efficiency.

It is also an important trading hub that connects the rest of the country with cheap fashion products from Uganda. The entirety of its land mass is excellent for agricultural production.

Eldoret is also home to almost all the world-beating long-distance athletes, who use the county as a training and residential base.

Paul Tergat, Vivian Cheruiyot, Kipchoge Keino, Isaiah Kiplagat and many other new and old athletes have invested their vast fortunes in the town, leading to the rise of exclusive residential areas in its suburbs. Trans Nzoia has an excellent agricultural base that the upcoming county administration can build on for further economic progress.



Isiolo sits right in the middle of Kenya in both a geographical and economic sense. Touted as Mwisho wa Lami (End of the Tarmac) in the past, the town is the new focus of sustained efforts to open up northern Kenya for development.

Not only will the transport corridor linking Sudan and Ethiopia pass through this county, it is also being earmarked for a major resort city development in the mould of Sharm al Sheikh in Egypt, Sun City in South Africa or Orlando in the United States.

This will come with a new international airport and extensive infrastructural developments. Isiolo sits in the middle of an expansive tourist circuit that stretches from the Mount Kenya National Reserve in the south to the Samburu Game Reserve in the north.

The private ranches in Laikipia and the Lewa Wildlife Conservancy are also around Isiolo.



Nakuru has always been one of the wealthiest regions in Kenya and has a huge agricultural, transportation and tourism potential. Sitting at the base of the Great Rift Valley, the county possesses one of the richest array of Kenya’s tourist attractions.

Lakes Naivasha, Nakuru, Elementaita and Bogoria surround the county, while Longonot and Menengai mountains ensure that Destination Nakuru is exceedingly attractive to visitors from near and far.

The Nakuru National Park, just a walk away from the heart of the town, is perhaps at par with the very best in the country in its scenery and game variety.

The county is home to the largest horticultural producers in the world — around Lake Naivasha — and hosts big ranches as well. Nakuru town is a major economic and transportation centre that will provide a good base for the new county government.



The ongoing Sh1.8 trillion LAPSSET infrastructure project may be designed to offer landlocked Ethiopia and South Sudan an open route to the sea, but the crux of the ensuing economic benefits is expected to remain in the areas where this corridor will pass.

Lamu will host the most modern and biggest port in the region, which will attract a host of economic investment, all the way from the construction process to the future operation of the port.

Professionals and businessmen are swarming the ancient town to give it a major makeover. The key industries you should expect to sprout here range from shipping, logistics, banking, insurance and real estate ventures.


Siaya, Homa Bay, Kisii, Kisumu

The whole of Nyanza is endowed with fertile soils and good rainfall patterns that make it suitable for horticultural, sugar and rice farming that can cover national requirements easily.

What these counties need is motivated and visionary leadership to achieve stellar economic success. Kisumu is home to south-western Kenya’s most important economic hub, complete with Kenya’s latest international airport and an international water port.