Counties must seek home-grown solutions to spur development

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BY MACHEL WAIKENDA

Almost all African heads of State were recently in America at the invitation of US President Barrack Obama where trade between the two continents was discussed. Coming closer home, the Standard Gauge Railway has stopped being a Kenyan affair and it is now the joint regional issue that it should be.

This is the reason why the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport joint meetings have been hosted by the three Presidents – Uhuru Kenyatta (Kenya), Yoweri Museveni (Uganda) and Paul Kagame (Rwanda). Indeed, countries enhance bilateral relations with their immediate and far-flung neighbours to ensure their collective efforts enhance their capacity to deliver to their respective nations through development.

Turning to the local scene, we saw a very fine example when Makueni and Kajiado counties signed an MoU to collaborate on a broad range of programmes. They even agreed on how sand harvesting can be conducted sustainably while conserving the environment and saving roads infrastructure.

These examples are a fulfilment of the adage that “no man is an island”. In other words, County Governments should not shy away from collaborating and seeking ways through which they not only learn from each other but also increase productivity.

It is no secret that Kenyans have put all their hopes and eggs in one basket called Devolution. As a consequence, it is imperative that it not only succeed, but do so spectacularly in a way that benefits all Kenyans.

There are so many facets to Devolution, starting from the basic governance structures in the form of self-governing county government units, complete with law-making and implementing assemblies to digitization and Rapid Results Initiatives to ease the process of doing business.

Indeed, this past week, the Integrated Financial management System (IFMIS) was inaugurated to ensure revenue collection is firmed, and on the other end of the pipeline, to become the financial backbone that ensures every taxpayer shilling is accounted for and optimized.

Counties must, therefore, come up with strategies to ensure Devolution pays a just dividend to its Kenyan shareholder. Elective and administrative borders should not be a hindrance for collaboration and co-operation between Counties.

For instance, Wajir and Garissa Counties can collaborate with Nairobi and Kajiado counties that already boast operational abattoirs and Kenya Meat Commission centers. This kind of bilateral arrangement would see the uptake of herders’ animals during lean and dry periods and save them from financial ruin and save livestock from drought.

There must be dividends waiting in the wings if breadbasket counties like Uasin Gishu and Bungoma were to co-operate with their neighbouring arid northern Kenya counties of Turkana, Samburu and Baringo. In short, there should not be a glut of agricultural produce in one county that ends up rotting for lack of a market when there is hunger in a neighbouring county! Why should Samburus ask for food relief from the national government when there is a bumper harvest just a county border away?

We must ask ourselves why the livestock-rich counties have not explored the possibility of delivering their excess milk produce to the Central and Mount Kenya counties which have already have multiple functional dairies.

In the same line, instead of counties around Eldoret each seeking to build a referral hospital, they can collaborate to improve and expand the Moi Teaching and Referral Hospital to cater for all their counties. If it is better equipped, there would be no need for expensive fundraisers to India, South Africa, Europe or America for expert treatment. The neighbouring counties only need to become full shareholders in ensuring the MTRH has satellite Level Four and Five medical facilities to ease the burden.

The examples are endless. For instance, what stops Western Kenya counties from collaborating with their neighbours up North by developing all-weather roads, or even a railway line to share resources? Why has no one thought of getting electricity power lines from Kerio Valley to neighbouring counties to help power and spur development?

Many counties have their own riches but seem unaware that there exist markets just across their borders. This is one of the ways Counties can generate more revenue and release funds for other development purposes.

The county governments of Samburu, Wajir and Turkana have monies allocated to them with which they can purchase food from the breadbasket neighbours instead of appealing for relief food year in year out. Meanwhile, counties on the lower reaches of the Tana, Athi Rivers have no business being water scarce since a well-placed dam here and there will ensure everyone has plenty of fresh water all year round as the streams from the Mount Kenya catchment area flow all year round and the water gushes unharnessed into the Indian Ocean.

Further, counties in and around national parks can collaborate and designate animal migration corridors to stem/reduce human-wildlife conflicts, even as they all build hotels and tourism attractions to tap revenues from the same wild heritage.

It is not lost on anyone that we have all these competent managers elected to head county units with the intellectual and financial muscle to make counties centres of excellence and production units for the betterment of their people. The devolution dream is more than merely having independent units. Counties must explore novel and home-grown ways to enhance development individually and collectively.

(The writer is a political and communications consultant. Twitter @MachelWaikenda)

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