Rural areas are much more than graveyards

A new building in Kithimu, Embu [Courtesy]

The rural areas are blossoming with new buildings and investments. Is devolution paying off? A visit to small rural towns such as Kithimu in Embu County (below) shows high-rise buildings changing the skyline. 

Some suggest that this is the best evidence that devolution is working and resources are getting to the rural areas (read counties). That is partly true. The counties, particularly their headquarters, are beneficiaries of devolved funds with lots of county government employees who demand goods and services. 

It’s more than devolution. Counties made us more aware of our rural homes and increased our willingness to invest there.

When you vote for governors and MCAs you are indirectly becoming homely. While the returns for such buildings in the rural areas may not be high, the psychic satisfaction is high as everyone knows the owner.

Being a pioneer owner of a storied building can be an achievement too.

There is another overlooked reason for the shifting of resources to the rural areas: the price of land in the urban centres has risen fast, driven by shortage and population growth.

Some suggest corruption has driven up the price of land. Investors must be reasoning that instead of buying a quarter of an acre for Sh25 million along the Eastern Bypass near Ruiru, one can use the same money to buy a plot and build it up in the rural areas. 

My only concern is that a lot of investments in the rural areas focus too narrowly on rentals, accommodation and food. I have seen a few smokestacks for industries. Fewer service sectors also dominate the rural areas.

We need to go to the next phase - industrialisation. Every county should be known not for its dances or community that dominate it but its key products or services. The same way we hear Google is domiciled in California, General Motors in Michigan or IBM in New York.   

With industrialisation, our home-grown firms should have their headquarters in the rural areas, where they are "born". Think of Equity Bank building its corporate headquarters at Kangema, Murang‘a County where it was born. Would this not be fun and a great honour to this rural outpost?

The rural areas are part of this country and deserve more investment and respect. They feed us and supply us with labour. They should not be just graveyards where we are taken after death. Thanks to cremation, that is changing.

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