Forget the 'mitumba' rage, we must strengthen manufacturing

Second-hand cloth shop at Toi Market in Kibra, Nairobi. June 9, 2022. [Stafford Ondego, Standard]

The excitement that kicked in after the Monday launch of Azimio flagbearer Raila Odinga's manifesto was palpable across the republic.

In particular, the debate that followed Raila’s mitumba remarks was quite engaging, seen from the perspective of job creation and manufacturing. It may have passed as a by the way but given a close look, it offered a major food for thought.

In 2007, 2013 and 2017, Raila’s manifestos have largely revolved around infrastructure. Indeed, at the launch at Nyayo National Stadium, he emphasised infrastructure as one of the key areas of economic growth that he will leverage.

The centrality of infrastructure in the country’s growth agenda cannot be gainsaid. The Kibaki-Raila and Uhuru governments have particularly made remarkable achievements in the infrastructure front.

There are mega road projects that we previously saw only on thriller Western movies, such as the Thika Super Highway – the hallmark of the Kibaki regime's road development to the Mombasa Road's new iconic Expressway.

This year, Raila has made a significant gear shift. His priority is industrialisation. His message in the campaigns has been as clear – one county one product. Imagine the possibility of having 47 mega factories focused on products servicing the needs of the regions.

That is why the rage on 'mitumba' remarks was completely unnecessary. Manufacturing means harnessing our own local resources. It means more money in the pockets of the farmers. It means employment opportunities for the youth. It means access to ready markets and it all translates to an overall economic prosperity and a powerful brand Kenya.

According to government statistics, the manufacturing sector has remained flat in the last decade, contributing a static 11 per cent to the value of Kenya's goods and services. This can be tripled, and the results will be instant in its contribution to national output and exports, and for job creation.

Manufacturing was also one of President Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda. At the heart of Raila’s development agenda will be the ‘Buy-Kenya-Build Kenya’ philosophy. Azimio wants to strengthen jua kali manufacturers – with orders for doors, windows, nails, hinges – under the affordable housing programme. Huge resources have been invested in the Big Four projects that cannot go to waste.

We can’t do the same thing all the time and expect different results. To realise the full potential of devolution, we must invest more in manufacturing. Economists will tell you that increasing a country’s share of manufacturing will translate into sustained economic growth.

Poor governance practices are substantially to blame for our county's current social, political, and economic challenges. Ten years after devolution, the counties, including Homa Bay where I come from, are still confronted with teething socio-economic challenges.

A strong manufacturing sector, good infrastructure, elimination of graft, hence, good governance, improved health and well-being, enhanced food security, adequate jobs and sustained social and cultural development, is what Kenya requires to catch up with the Asian Tigers. It can be done.

The writer is Homa Bay Woman Rep and governor aspirant