By Kimutai Ngeno
The rush to showcase business competitiveness and lure in local and international investors has been a notable characteristic existing among the county governments.
Slapping ridiculous taxes such as chicken rearing or burial ceremonies on citizens all in the name of looking for more resources to place a county government ahead of the others has been a commonplace.
There has been a rave among counties putting up different brand identities with almost similar slogans and thereby setting stage for unhealthy competition.
For example, Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet counties have all been sharing a catchword-‘Champions’.
They brand themselves as city of champions, source of champions and home of champions respectively and therefore seizing the opportunity to showcase athletics as a signature sports known to them.
However, the launch of the North Rift Regional Economic Bloc (NOREB) December last year could signal a departure from individual competition to a collective bargaining and utilization of economies of scale.
NOREB brings together eight counties in the larger rift valley region. They are; Uasin Gishu, Nandi, Baringo, West Pokot, Trans Nzoia, Elgeyo Marakwet, Turkana and Samburu.
This regional economic outfit will result in harnessing of resources, sharing and utilizing the economic potential existing among the counties. This is by looking out at areas of common interest and convergence for a common destiny.
Tourism is among other key economic activities set to benefit from this joint economic movement currently chaired by Uasin Gishu County governor, Jackson Mandago.
Besides the Mt. Kenya Tourism circuit and the Kenyan coast, North Rift has plenty of tourism opportunities to showcase.
The region is rich in cultural, historical or heritage tourism, agro tourism, sports and adventure tourism among others. These signature attractions have made the region a prime tourism spot.
Key tourist attractions such as the cradle of mankind in Turkana County, Baringo’s fame as a birding paradise as well as UNSECO’s lake region; Trans Nzoia’s home to agri-tourism are destinations worth visiting.
West Pokot and Samburu provide exciting and the vastness of the region’s cultures, unparalleled natural beauty of its landscape and hidden treasures.
Uasin Gishu, Nandi and Elgeyo Marakwet besides other attractions sum it all as athletic power houses whose champions have put the country on the global map in the athletics arena.
All these diverse resources will be strengthened under NOREB stewardship. The diversity of Kenya’s tourism product becomes a reality with the availability of different option of attractions for tourists to sample.
Preparation of single and exciting itinerary covering the entire rift valley region will be achieved under NOREB. A single itinerary will see to tourist increasing duration of stay and spend in the region.
Development of new tourism products unique to different counties and unified marketing materials will be achieved through NOREB.
International tourism fairs will see the counties sending fewer representatives to showcase on behalf of the region and therefore cutting on costs of travel and other expenditures.
The North Rift being a major beneficiary of cross border movements due to its proximity to the border points is a full beneficiary of the East Africa Community’s (EAC) introduction of a common visa applicable to Kenya, Uganda and Rwanda.
These aspects, together with the critical mass of resource base for exploitation of economies of scale and supply of essential resources provides the necessary ingredients to transform the region into a competitive investment and tourist destination.
With the strength and potential that the bloc presents, the country has a strong base from which to leverage the available opportunities that NOREB offers for development.
NOREB should now focus on legislation that will attract and encourage investments. The development of these legislations should embrace community participation for ownership and sustainability.
That already the counties have begun inter-tourism programs spearheaded by the governors is a good start.
This spirit will create awareness on the need to embrace domestic tourism as we reach out to international visitors.
NOREB needs to fast track on memorandum of understanding with the Ministry of Tourism and Kenya Tourism Board on areas of collaboration and support on product branding, marketing and promotions.
The region can already ride on the solid economic base towards prosperity .It is appreciated as the top agricultural export products, tea, horticulture, and coffee, in addition to fish, livestock and livestock products that are abundant in the NOREB counties.
(The writer is a PR and Corporate Communications practitioner in the Public sector @kimutaingeno12)