Baden-Württemberg is one of Germany’s sixteen States. Although many Kenyans have never heard about it, they have been impacted by it. Mercedes Benz, one of the most admired car brands in the world, is headquartered in Stuttgart, Baden-Württemberg’s State Capital.
Thanks to Mercedes and several other industrialisation exploits, Baden-Württemberg’s economy is as strong as Poland’s economy. Poland’s GDP of Sh63.5 trillion is seven times the size of Kenya’s GDP of Sh9.5 trillion.
This comparison is not to show how bad we are doing, but rather, to remind us about the amazing economic potential of devolution. Each of Germany’s sixteen States has strong flagship economic ventures that make a massive difference not just in that State, but in the entire country. Apart from Mercedes Benz, Baden-Württemberg also has Südzucker AG, Europe’s largest sugar producer. Its sugar production averages 4.8 million tonnes every year.
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Although Kenya’s sugar demand is 900,000 tonnes we struggle to produce our installed capacity of 600,000 tonnes. Bavaria, another Germany State is home to BMW and Adidas while Hamburg, the country’s ninth wealthiest State is a port city that is home to Europe’s third largest container port. All these economic ventures create millions of jobs for Germans. It’s no wonder Germany remains Europe’s strongest economy and the fourth strongest in the world behind USA, China and Japan.
Germany’s story can be Kenya’s story. Not in terms of those stratospheric economic figures but in terms of tapping into the immense potential of devolution. It’s a good thing that earlier this year, some of our Governors travelled to Germany to study decentralisation. They should religiously implement the insights and lessons that they gathered there. A time has come for Kenyans to interrogate the gains of devolution so that we can build on those gains as we tackle hurdles that still stand in the way.
This interrogation should not just be conducted by economists, politicians and large institutions like World Bank. Rather, it should be primarily undertaken by common Kenyans: students, boda boda operators, farmers, mama mbogas, barber, matatu touts, unemployed youth, bank tellers, hawkers, roast maize vendors and more. The question to them is simple – has devolution given you a new job or new economic opportunity?
Two days ago, I posed a variation of the above question to my friend Makueni Governor Prof Kivutha Kibwana. I asked him how many jobs and livelihood opportunities his county government has created. All our 47 Governors owe Kenyans as a whole and their respective Counties in particular answers to this singular question. They should organise a series of covid-19 compliant barazas to have this conversation with their constituents. Governor Kibwana shared a professorial answer to my question. For starters, the Makueni County Public Service Board has employed 910 permanent staff and 1,282 on contract.
Through the County’s Youth Directorate, 42,000 youth have been given seed money to purchase motorcycles. The labour-intensive ajira kwa vijana project has created jobs for 1,200 youth. Makueni Youth in Agribusiness Empowerment Project has created livelihoods for 1,274 residents. In addition, 1,040 residents have been engaged to construct sand dams.
The county has also supported cooperatives and community groups to create livelihoods. In the dairy sector, 17,034 members of 18 cooperatives and 241 groups have been supported. In the same vein, the mango development project supports 6,793 members from 12 cooperatives.
Further to this, the agricultural department program has supported 55,620 members from dozens of community groups and cooperatives. They were drawn from diverse economic activities that include poultry farming, green grams and tomatoes. Access to government procurement opportunities was also streamlined to benefit as many Makueni residents as possible. Since 2014, 15,864 contractors have benefited from the County Government. Between 2016 and 2020, County government contracts have been awarded to 58 persons with disabilities; 610 women and 948 youth. These contracts were cumulatively worth 1,585,972,183.
All these figures represent the people of Makueni that are now able to put bread on their table regularly because of new jobs and new livelihood opportunities. All counties should reveal to the Kenyan people how many new jobs and livelihood opportunities have been created in their counties. If those figures will be contested either by political opponents or other critics, a healthy debate should ensue. These figures are not meant to demonise or exalt anyone, but to accelerate county-led job creation. Once county leaders focus on monetary policy, tax cuts and spending, tangible jobs will be created and will not keep looking to Germany and other countries for economic inspiration. Think green, act green!
- The writer is founder and chairperson Green Africa Foundation. www.isaackalua.co.ke