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Use local advantages to trade with the world

By Faith Munuhe | February 11th 2020
President Uhuru Kenyatta with President Donald Trump at the White House, Washington DC.

Empowerment is about giving people the power to take their fate into their own hands. It is about dispersing the tools so that we can get a bit closer to equality of opportunities.

We all are capable, and in some form responsible, for empowering our kin. But society at large has the same role to play which is why it is important that there are social initiatives helping women and youth set up their own businesses, or villages to become energy independent.

Yet, there is another important actor that is crucial in setting the course for the empowerment of many different and challenged groups in modern Kenya; the government. And former President Daniel Moi’s focus on rural development fits into this matrix. It is development from the grassroots.

He deployed government to bring about change across the country. That worked well up to a point. Now is the time to look outward.

With a vast toolbox at their disposal, ranging from tax policy, passing by the educational curriculum and all the way to budget allocation, the national as well as local governments can ensure that all of Kenya’s population will enjoy the fruits of the constant macro-economic growth we are experiencing.

It should be noted that Central Bank of Kenya has just increased the growth of the national Gross Domestic Product it expects in 2020 to over 6 per cent.

Yet in our globalised world, it is not enough to have a strong local economy. In order to truly prosper, we have to use our local advantages to trade with the world for hard currencies. That is akin to taking things to the next level. But nobody wants to trade with an international outcast without friends or influence on the international stage.

Since 2013, President Uhuru Kenyatta has striven to reset our relationship with the outside world.

The creation of the African Continental Free Trade Area is as a result of these initiatives. It was created by the African Continental Free Trade Agreement among 54 of the 55 African Union nations.

Our open engagement with the world has translated into trade relations which present many tremendous opportunities for our farmers and traders.While this sounds like merely a lofty theory, everyone can see the effects on the ground. Pass through Murang’a on any given day. Aptly named “the home of avocados”, a certain slumber had befallen the town. The reason was simple – the area is so fertile and conditions so perfect for the growth of avocado that it produced more than the country could possibly consume. Only 10 years ago, researchers estimated that half of the avocados produced went to waste.

In April 2019, the government signed a deal to export the delicious green fruit to China, becoming the only African nation to provide the economic powerhouse with this staple of the Asian cuisine. While back then, some eternally hostile hecklers complained about exporting the fruit raw, the serious people in the national government got down to business. And the proof, as they say, was in the pudding.

Local government did its part, too. By the end of 2019, the Nakuru county government acted in order to ensure a maximal profit for their population by distributing over 113,000 avocado seedlings to over 6,200 farmers. Once it has reached full maturity, and if properly cared for, a single avocado tree can bear 1,000 fruits per year.

Finished products

The benefits to be reaped from this kind of trade are immense. The coordinated actions by different players all along the chain, from the national government to the individual farmer, will ensure this opportunity doesn’t go to waste.

Yet a lot more needs to be done to ensure our avocados are exported as finished products. And not just for avocados. We could replicate this in every other fruit or cash crop that does well on our soils.

These are just two examples of what can be done incrementally to improve the standards of living using local initiatives.

Other attributes that gives us an advantage include language- many Kenyans speak fluent English the preferred business language; technological and good internet penetration, a well-educated, multi-skilled workforce and generally, Kenya’s knack to innovate and go the extra mile.

Now one begins to appreciate former President Moi’s insistence on education.

When all the independent players such as local governments, businessmen and farmers reach out and grab the opportunities, the possibilities are endless. We have it in our hand to change the reality we live in for the better.


Ms Munuhe studies international relations at University of Nairobi

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