Ambitious regional blocs have not become white elephants, governors say

A barrier where the Nairobi-Nanyuki railway line ends at Nanyuki town. Governors from eight Mt Kenya counties have unveiled a plan to revive the railway line to boost economy in the region. PHOTO | JOSEPH KANYI | NATION MEDIA GROUP

What you need to know:

  • The situation is replicated in various other regions that formed their respective economic blocs to spearhead development.
  • It is not clear if the firm contracted to draft the policy submitted its work to the CoG.

In January last year, 10 governors from the Mt Kenya region converged on the tourist town of Nanyuki in Laikipia County, where a memorandum of association was signed.

The conference saw the birth of the Mt Kenya and Aberdare Counties Economic Bloc, an ambitious Sh100 billion blueprint to transform the region economically.

Each one of the counties was to contribute Sh10 billion to actualise the plan anchored mainly on six pillars — agriculture and agri-business, industrialisation, tourism, water and resource management, infrastructure and ICT.


The counties were to establish special economic zones for light industries such as business processes outsourcing centres, computer and vehicle assembly plants and alternative building material plants.

“All the governors of the region have given their firm commitment to ensure that this regional bloc is fully operational so as to improve the livelihoods of the citizens of the region and all Kenyans in general,” a former chairman of the Mt Kenya governors forum, Mr Joshua Irungu, who was the host, said after the signing of MoU.

The economic bloc incorporated county chiefs from Murang’a, Nyeri, Laikipia, Kiambu, Embu, Kirinyaga, Meru, Tharaka-Nithi, Nyandarua and Nakuru, which have a combined population of about 16 million.

But nearly two years after this high-profile conference, there is little to show on actualising what was put on paper.

The situation is replicated in various other regions that formed their respective economic blocs to spearhead development.

They include Lake Region Economic Bloc (LREB), North Rift Economic Bloc (Noreb), South Rift Economic Bloc, as well as the Coast economic bloc, named Jumuiya ya Kaunti za Pwani.


In the Mt Kenya region, for instance, the first step was to form a secretariat, which would guide the operations of the economic bloc, but this did not happen.
High expectations

In the North Rift, expectations were high when seven counties formed their economic bloc.

The county chiefs who established Noreb were upbeat of implementing key development projects amounting to more than Sh300 billion in the areas of agriculture, water, energy, tourism and infrastructure.

However, more than two years down the line, not much has been achieved. A number of residents are still doubtful whether the much-hyped bloc will ever realise its investment dreams.

In the coastal and western regions, most of the numerous flagship projects mooted under their respective economic blocs are yet to be implemented.

Former Laikipia County Executive Committee (CEC) member in charge of Trade and Tourism, Ms Jane Putunoi, who sat in the Mt Kenya regional bloc’s technical committee, said the secretariat was never formed since no law was formulated to give it backing.


“The Council of Governors contracted an expert to draft a policy and a legal framework to guide the operations of the secretariat, which was to be based in Nanyuki town,” Ms Putunoi told the Nation on phone. “Once this law was put in place, it was to be customised by the respective county assemblies but this did not happen.”

It is not clear if the firm contracted to draft the policy submitted its work to the CoG or, if it did, why the same was not shared among the 10 governors.

However, Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi says despite the hurdles encountered in the initial stages of the formation of the economic bloc, there are more opportunities to be exploited than there are challenges.

“That initiative may have faced some challenges but it will not help to focus on the past,” Mr Muriithi said on phone. “We need to direct our energies on the numerous opportunities presented by counties with similar economic opportunities working together.”

The governor pointed out that governors in the region are already reaching out to one another to explore opportunities in economic development and cites a recent meeting where eight county chiefs met to deliberate on the revival of the Nanyuki-Nairobi railway at a cost of Sh25 billion.


“Once the rail line is operational, it will spur economic growth not only in Mt Kenya region but also in northern Kenya once it is linked with Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor,” said Mr Muriithi. “Besides ferrying agricultural and livestock products, it will also be utilised in transporting petroleum products.”

Mr Muriithi, however, was non-committal on whether or not the development agenda by the region’s county chiefs would be guided by the blueprint spelt out by the Mt Kenya and Aberdare Counties Economic Bloc.

“I am already reaching out to my colleagues in the neighbouring counties of Baringo, Isiolo and Samburu, through the Amaya Initiative, with a view of restoring peace in the region to pave the way for the exploitation of business opportunities in the livestock sector,” said Mr Muriithi.

In the North Rift, the situation has been complicated by the fact that some of the governors who championed the plan — such as Dr Cleophas Lagat (Nandi), Benjamin Cheboi (Baringo) and Simon Kachapin (West Pokot) — lost in the August General Election.

Mr Joseph Kosgey, a micro-finance operator in Eldoret, said of Noreb: “The body lacks clear investment policy. All they did was finance luxurious investment conferences, which attracts little returns.”


However, Uasin Gishu Governor Jackson Mandago, who chairs the bloc, differs.

“Contrary to baseless claims that the bloc has not achieved much since its inception, we are on course to implementing all the plans we had rolled out prior to the General Election,” he told the Nation in an interview.

According to Mr Mandago, the county bosses have already signed an MoU and developed legal instruments to help them to implement objectives of the bloc.

“Our region is rich in livestock, coffee and horticulture,” said Mr Mandago. “We are in the process of creating budgets for sustainable production of these products to utilise the idle capacity of Eldoret International Airport.”

Besides Uasin Gishu, other counties under this bloc are Baringo, Elgeyo-Marakwet, Nandi, Samburu, Trans Nzoia, Turkana and West Pokot.


The county bosses argue that, owing to the fact that their devolved units are faced with similar challenges, they will only solve them by harnessing their joint economic power, potential and resources.

They plan to create an internal market targeting a population of more six million.

The governors are already working with their respective county assemblies to develop laws that will foster business in the bloc.

“We want to involve the private sector to come up with a secretariat that will make North Rift, which is a gateway to the East and Central Africa, a business hub,” said Baringo Governor Stanley Kiptis.

According to Mr Mandago, the investors have pledged to inject between Sh80 billion and Sh100 billion to set up various businesses in the region, which will create employment opportunities.

Reports by Mwangi Ndirangu, Barnabas Bii and Wycliff Kipsang