By Philip Mwakio and Ngumbao Kithi
For Evangelist Editha Samree Lewela, last week’s Coast Investment Conference in Mombasa could not have come at a better time.
But what remains etched in her mind and the other 300 small-scale miners in Taita Hills is whether the meeting will bear any fruits.
"We hope this might not be just one of the many conferences and workshops we attended that never bore any meaningful results," she says. Evangelist Lewela has seen it all.
"Time and again we have converged for meetings similar to this one and very good recommendations have been arrived at, but they have been stacked on shelves and are rotting away," she says.
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She raps the Government over its failure to fix roads in Taita-Taveta, giving the example of the Voi-Taveta road, which has remained in the same state since independence.
Like Lewela, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) Mombasa chapter is cautioning the Coast public not be too optimistic on what the conference will achieve for them. KAM fears the conference could easily become just another talking shop.
"It is good that our concerns have received the attention of the highest office in the country.
But it will be useless if recommendations are not taken into account," says Tobias Alando, KAM Mombasa branch executive officer.
But the Conference chairman Fred Mweni remains optimistic that the conference will achieve a lot for the region.
"At the conclusion of the conference, we have successfully achieved our objective for the event," he says.
Mweni, who is also the CEO of Tsavo Securities Group, says the Kenya Investment Authority (KenInvest) will help package investment opportunities for the region on a sector-by-sector basis.
"The sectors will be promoted in partnership with relevant stakeholders from the public, private and community circles," he says.
Key among the sectors the conference identified as the driving force for Coast investment is education. It was agreed that for the region to move out of its current development impasse, there was urgent need to sensitise locals to embrace education.
"Education remains critical to development," says Mweni. "With education, we will inform our people and empower them economically."
Conference organisers say investment potential in the region has remained largely untapped due to lack of adequate information on opportunities available, despite its abundance in natural resources.
Apart from education, other key sectors include agriculture, tourism, mining, energy, health, marine and fisheries. Others are beef, cattle ranching, dairy farming, horticulture, tree crops and telecommunications.
Among the conference sponsors were Equity Bank, Kenya Petroleum Oil Refineries Ltd, Tsavo Securities Ltd, Coast Parliamentary Group (CPG), Tana and Athi River Development Authority, Kenya Bulk Handlers Limited, Grain Bulk Handling Limited (GBHL), Coast Development Authority, Kenya Ports Authority and Tana and Athi River Development Authority.
Mr Mweni says the regions estimated 3.8 million people with 78 per cent living in the rural areas, is a potential labour force.
He says Coast is a strategic location with potential for the establishment of other port facilities at Dongo Kundu, Lamu and Kilifi creek.
Mweni says several experts have demonstrated how to exploit the first class tourism industry, vibrant hotel industry and services sector and skilled labour force to stir the economy of the region and by extension the entire economy.
H says the region was starved of a wide range of suitable tax incentives, trade and investment agreements as well as business-friendly regulatory reforms equivalent to Nairobi (EPZ) at Athi River, which have direct Government support.
Coast has largely remained a port town with most items being taken to Nairobi for processing, only to return to Coast for consumption or export.
"The province’s ambitious growth target can only be achieved through careful planning and execution of identified sector projects," he says
There are proposals for two model cities to be built in Kilifi and Ukunda by 2030.
Mr Mweni says ICT and Business Process Outsourcing have not been developed in the region, although they are key sectors.
"On wholesale and retail, we wish put up construction of wholesale and retail markets countrywide," he says.
He says the experts are working closely with Coast Parliamentary Group.