Creating more counties makes no economic sense
The notion of further dividing counties should not be entertained because it does not make economic sense and looks like an attempt to accommodate specific communities and clans for political reasons.
After a proposal by 26 members of Parliament to establish 11 additional devolved units in Kenya emerged, the first thing that crossed the mind of many Kenyans is “what have we done with the 47 counties?”
This is definitely within their constitutional right, however, concerns rooted in fundamental questions about the effectiveness of the existing counties, especially when this move appears to be driven by political motives and a quest for power abound.
Creation of additional counties would necessitate constitutional amendments to align the number of women representatives and senators with the increased county count, incurring additional expenses.
I am more comfortable with alternative proposals, such as the radical idea of Kakamega Senator Boni Khalwale to dissolve all the counties and form 10 economic units – a concept with clear economic merit.
It is important to note that in 2016, Trade CS Moses Kuria who was then Gatundu South MP, wanted the number of counties reduced to 18 from 47 to bring down the cost of governing the country. Then Mwingi Central legislator Joe Mutambu also proposed that devolved units be reduced to 25.
China has close to 1.4 billion people yet administratively, it is divided into 23 provinces. For a country the size of Kenya, the 47 counties do not make any economic sense.
Just imagine curving another county to fit the Kuria people or breaking up the densely populated Kisii County into two to pave the way for Gucha County.
It is also laughable that while the world over regions are working towards greater integration, we are seeking to disintegrate even more.
But the real tragedy is that we have not adopted a purely business mindset, but have instead devolved inefficiency, ethnicity and corruption. But all is not lost. For instance, it is crucial to acknowledge the promising beginnings of county collaborations through economic blocs.
Originally designed to revolutionise regional development, it is about time to empower these blocs further, which at one point represented a promising avenue toward shared prosperity, by capitalising on each region’s strengths while fostering cooperation and synergy.
Conceived as a departure from political manoeuvring and shared economic interests six blocs – Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC), North Rift Economic Bloc (NOREB), Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), Jumuia ya Kaunti za Pwani, South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc and Mt Kenya and Aberdares Region Economic Bloc – reflect that significant shift driven by county-led integration aimed at accelerating the Kenya’s growth.
The national government must encourage these blocs, but must be made to serve as a mechanism for counties to collaborate, pooling resources, sharing knowledge and addressing regional challenges.
Economic blocs will shape Kenya’s development trajectory and will go along way towards determining the nation’s ability to tackle challenges and seize opportunities.
However, the potential for economic growth through collaborative blocs underscores the need for careful consideration and strategic planning. For example, the FCDC which unites seven northeastern counties can address unique issues stemming from arid landscapes and pastoralist communities. NOREB, comprising eight counties, can leverage its agricultural prowess in the country’s breadbasket, focusing on agribusiness, food security and investment.
The LREB, with its 14 member counties, can harness its collective potential for economic transformation, particularly in agriculture and by tapping economies of the lake.
Jumuia ya Kaunti za Pwani, consisting of six coast counties, must strategise how to prioritize the blue economy, tourism and sustainable development. The South Eastern Kenya Economic Bloc can leverage digital innovation and financial inclusion, expanding access to financial services and supporting entrepreneurship using Konza as a launchpad.
The Mt. Kenya and Aberdares Region Economic Bloc must unlock the agricultural and industrial potential of its ten member counties for inclusive growth and pool resources for value addition purposes.
By marching forward in one accord, this will help spike own revenue for counties but also create synergies that can work alongside national government and deepen development countrywide. This can help make a case for devolved units as centres of growth.
—The writer is the Business Editor, People Daily