Impressive returns on investments has become the magnet attracting local and international investors to Kenyan counties with manufacturing, value addition and technology emerging among the most preferred areas of investment due to growing demand for products in these areas.
The counties, aware of the crucial role investment plays in growing their local economies, have invested in incentives like tax breaks, free land, and relaxing certain company registration processes to bait prospective investors. Such investments, for example, have been identified as key in transfer of knowledge especially to the locals from the investing companies, raising the living standards while setting the pace for businesses due to demand for better services and products through schools, housing, and entertainment.
Investors are responding with high appetite for the counties’ resources buoyed by the fact that the counties offer nascent unexploited markets that provide quicker and higher returns on investments.
“We are talking about treasure troves that have not received the right attention they deserve by the national government. The scramble for these goldmines especially because of aggressive marketing has caught the eye of many investors who are keen on the highest form of return from the investment. Finding resources concentrated in one area in large quantities and accessing the right infrastructure to exploit them has become the counties’ selling point,” said Dr. Julius Kipng’etich, the Chief Operating Officer at Equity Bank.
Kwale County has benefited from investors, among them Base Titanium for the exploration and mining of titanium and rare earths and Pacific Wildcat Resources Corps (PAW), whose operating budgets are injected into the county In the last one year, Ksh760 million has been invested in community projects in the area, such as schools, hospitals and boreholes.
In Murang’a County, even as the county government invests in creating modern value addition factories to tap into the robust agricultural activities in the area favoured by good climates, multinationals have already set up shop and are directly benefiting the locals.
Makers of soft drinks, chocking under prohibitive import duty for fruit pulp, a key ingredient in the soft drinks, have decided to buy the fruits directly from the farmers.
Coca-Cola has introduced higher farm gate prices to passion fruit farmers while New Zealand based Olivado Company, which is in the business of manufacturing edible oils, has incentivized Murang’a County farmers with free trainings, high quality seeds and higher prices for their produce.
“It becomes easier to deal with the counties because for us we are very particular about meeting the actual people we are doing business with and engaging directly with them. Working with the people of Isiolo County where we buy most of the hides and animal skin has assisted us identify more opportunities and understand the dynamics of sourcing hides from Kenya,” said Bert Sieberg an investor leading a delegation from Germany and who owns a leather and apparel business in Berlin.
But the counties are grappling with policy and legislation teething problems that investors have raised concerns about. Eager for more revenue, the counties are imposing new taxes on everyone and everything creating an environment that investors say is increasingly unpredictable.
The proposed tax by Mombasa County to be charging $2 per tonne or $10 per consignment for cargo shipped from East Africa’s biggest port has sparked complaints by the Shippers Council of Eastern Africa that it would raise the cost of trade. A major concern at the investment conference, the ad hoc taxes are sounding the death knell for the fledgling economies.
But so are the counties misplaced spending priorities at the expense of development and infrastructure which the investors count on for ease of doing business. A report by the Office of the Controller of Budget released earlier this year indicates that certain counties are spending unto 80 per cent of their budgets on recurrent expenditure like payment of wages and a paltry 20 per cent on development. “The counties need to put their acts together. Investors need to be baited by seeing mature and efficient governments that prioritises development,” said Dr. Kipng’etich.