Why Central Kenya is keeping options open on regional economy

Governor Nderitu Muriithi (left),  Anne Waiguru and Ndaragwa MP Jeremiah Kioni at Kambi Msitu, Laikipia County. [Kibata Kihu, Standard]

Wary about the prospect of its regional economy in the post Uhuru dispensation, Central Kenya is keeping its options open in endorsing a presidential candidate, according to Laikipia Governor Ndiritu Muriithi.

Muriithi who was with his Kirinyaga counterpart Anne Waiguru and host Lee Kinyanjui in a Nakuru visit by  Orange Democratic Movement (ODM)  leader Raila Odinga on Tuesday, said the region of 10 counties worried much about what will happen to its economy under the next regime.

"It is a Sh2.7 trillion economy with very hardworking people, including over three million small and medium enterprises (SMEs) and an almost equal number of farmers. It is bigger than Rwanda, South Sudan, Mauritius and Burundi. It is that important," Muriithi said.

He added that this was the main reason the region was keeping its options open and refusing to let the debate be reduced to mere sloganeering and the vote-rich region to labels.

"As a region, we are convinced that we have to talk to all contenders and then we can make up our mind based on their understanding of who were are. We are keeping our options open. What we are opposed to is that there is only one candidate that we can consider," he added.

The Laikipia governor who also chairs the Finance and Planning Committee at the Council of Governors (CoG) said the region wanted robust commitment for support cash crop and agribusiness sectors as well as SMEs by the contenders.

"The SMEs sector has done well under the Kibaki and Uhuru regimes despite challenges here and there but they now need a new focus. A good example is our Sh 3 billion Laikipia Economic Stimulus Package under which we offer risk-sharing assistance guaranteeing their loans and helping them pay the interest on credit," said Muriithi.

Under this programme, the county government had seconded 174 staff members and over 20 supervisors to offer support to the small businesses on daily basis with beneficiaries ranging from chaff cutter assemblers to tuk-tuk making factories to yoghurt processors.

Saying cascading this to the national level would take the economy to another level, Muriithi said the Central Kenya economic block wanted leading presidential contenders to spell out how they would expand access to affordable credit, adaptation of technology, removal of legal loopholes impeding trading and elimination of hurdles in form of standards beyond SMEs.

"Standards are mainly developed by big businesses and are sometimes deliberately used to exclude the micro-businesses from reaching the high table. We want a commitment that a new regime will not use this against the vibrant spirit of entrepreneurship in our region," said Muriithi.

Muriithi said the push by the Mt Kenya East counties of Embu, Meru and Tharaka Nithi to bring their voice into the national arena was legitimate and in the spirit of negotiated democracy.