Tread carefully on trade blocs

By Mbatau wa Ngai | Tuesday, Sep 11th 2018 at 12:40
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Bringing several counties together to form economic blocs is a tacit acknowledgement that devolved units were created on political and not economic considerations.

But the formation of these blocs shouldn’t be seen as a magic wand that will sweep away the counties’ problems. It may also be useful to learn a lesson or two from Makueni County why it is way ahead of others in the provision of universal health care, expanded agricultural production and value addition.

Interestingly, these are the areas that governors forming regional economic blocks are targeting. To succeed, however, the county bosses ought to avoid some of the pitfalls that have bedevilled the national government since independence.

These include the knee-jerk reaction of expecting development partners to offer donations or loans even before the blocs set up structures that would make use of these funds.

The danger is that these partners are likely to set the agenda for the blocs - favouring donors and lenders. This is what has kept Africa tied to the growing a few crops or extraction of natural resources exported in their raw form earning producers peanuts.


Finding out what the counties can do to help farmers and artisan miners get the best price for their products should involve running middle-men out of town.

It should also involve keeping out unnecessary imports such as cooking oil and its raw materials from Malaysia.

In identifying the products that have a ready local and foreign markets in these counties, governors can borrow a leaf from Elgeyo Marakwet which has identified a Chinese importer who will buy a wide variety of agricultural produce.

The attraction of the Chinese market is that it is huge and can absorb almost everything the country can produce.

After all, the Chinese are building up their investments in Kenya with the aim of making Nairobi their regional hub.

The ball is in the Kenyans’ court. How the leaders play the game will determine whether the country benefits from the Chinese embrace or become victims.

The hope is that the governors forming regional economic blocs will lock their plans and projects firmly into the Big Four Agenda to benefit from economies of scale.

The economic blocs should, however, steer clear of big grandiose projects that will gobble up their limited funds and offer benefits sometime in future.  

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