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Against odds, region is turning economic tide

By Ali Roba | September 13th 2020 at 00:00:00 GMT +0300

Good infrastructure is the fulcrum of economic growth. This is why as a developing country, it is prudent that we continuously improve our infrastructure to connect supply chains and move goods and services. 

The advent of devolution has offered a mixed bag of opportunities and challenges. More than ever before, we’ve increasingly seen regions that were in the “dark” witness a revolution. Specifically, we now see northern Kenya region angling to meet its development goals and attract investments. 

With poverty levels soaring at 70 per cent and above compared to 45 per cent national average, it is heartening to see the government and development partners make deliberate and sustained efforts to make a difference. 

Local leaders and the Frontier Counties Development Council believe the region is on track. The recent successful negotiation by the government with the World Bank for a credit facility of Sh81 billion to finance the Horn of Africa Gateway Development project, a section of 395km road from Isiolo to Mandera, is a welcome move. 

The region considers this road project a major gateway to an economic revolution. It will be one of the biggest legacy projects by President Uhuru Kenyatta under whose leadership and negotiation the approval was realised. 

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The road will impact lives in ways never envisaged before and will harness dozens of opportunities for small scale entrepreneurs and the county governments who pay a fortune as transport costs to have goods and services delivered. The region is beginning to see robust efforts by critical partners and the State to uplift the region and bring to an end to the discussion of marginalisation and exclusion to a close. 

Life changing infrastructure investments under President Kenyatta’s tenure will remain the most transformative for the region. Once realised, the Horn of Africa Gateway Development project will bring down the cost of living, cut down journey times, and enable trading and investment beyond the North.  

The project will touch many lives and present many income generating opportunities. It will also open trading opportunities for Central Kenya and Eastern Kenya farmers for supply of fresh farm produce to Northern Kenya. The loan is billed the single largest credit facility to be approved in the Workd Bank’s history for sub-Saharan Africa. There is no doubt it will improve living standards and reduce widespread poverty in the northern counties while at the same time opening up many job and income generating opportunities for youth and bolstering cross border trade and regional integration with neighbouring countries of Ethiopia and Somalia. The road corridor is a regional route, which connects Kenya to Somalia and landlocked Ethiopia. It will facilitate agriculture and livestock-based investment flows and transfers of technology.

The funding will be used to upgrade to bitumen standards the 190 kilometres Isiolo-Modogashe Road and the 175-kilometres Wajir-Elwak road sections, construction of two new bridges and customs border at Rhamu and Mandera and other trade facilities. The urban areas along the road corridor will also get an upgrade of up to 30 kilometres of bitumen standard roads.

Equally packaged with the transformative road project is a 740-kilometre fibre optic cable from Isiolo to Mandera, which will improve internet connectivity and digital opportunities plus an additional 200km fibre optic connectivity within the centres. However, with the transport corridor underway with its fibre optic network, what’s required to facilitate unlimited investment will be connection to the electricity grid. Electricity access in Northern Kenya is estimated at a mere 7 per cent. Access to electricity will help the region and country meet sustainable development goals and attract investment flows.

These ambitious projects will bring to an end the discussion of marginalisation in the north. We now have an opportunity to improve Kenya’s strong economic performance, which should translate into shared prosperity and a strategy to reduce poverty across the Northern Kenya region. 

Pioneer governors of the Frontier Counties Development Council and the current governors deserve support to take the region to the next level.   

-The writer is Mandera Governor

Mandera Governor Ali Roba Devolution
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