Coast leaders, led by Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho should be commended for inviting President Uhuru Kenyatta to discuss how to diversify the region’s economy.
This appears to be climb-down on their earlier opposition to plans to build an Inland Container Depot in Naivasha and to its facilitating the pact between the Mediterranean Shipping Company (MSC) and Kenya National Shipping Line (KNSL).
Mr Joho underlined the leaders change in tactics when he admitted that the Standard Gauge Railway has brought huge opportunities that the coastal people can be helped to harness.” The planned establishment of a Free Trade Zone at Dongo Kundu in Mombasa will offer plenty of opportunities to the region provided they seek them out.
The leaders could, for example, form a special-purpose-vehicle to invest in areas such as tourism and the exploitation of the marine eco-system.
There is no excuse for tourism spots at the Coast to be owned almost exclusively by foreign investors when the locals can build ones that blend with their environment and earn handsome returns that can be re-invested locally.
It should be a matter of concern that despite the State spending huge cash to market tourism, it only earns peanuts from the sector. Most tourists pay for their accommodation and travel in their home countries.
Few foreign investors pay local taxes, meaning the country only benefits from the workers employed in these establishments. Time may have now come for the State to re-engineer the entire industry, beginning with assisting locals to get a firm foot-hold.
The timing is right as a good chunk of the earnings in the sector come from domestic tourists. The Free Trade Area in Dongo Kundu is expected to attract importers from the rest of sub-Saharan Africa who go to Dubai.
These visitors would be happy to stay and spend their money in establishments that local Kenyans can afford to put up, especially if they are encouraged to do so as groups with the coast residents leading the way.