The hullabaloo that has greeted the Auditor General’s revelations that almost Sh 1 billion was misappropriated by greedy, inept and corrupt officials in Taita-Taveta County was expected, given the high hopes that many residents of the county had that devolution would bring good governance and development closer to the people.
But alas, corruption had been devolved to an even higher crescendo and those involved in the scam are nothing but impunity on stilts.
It startles any right thinking person how Taita Taveta, ranked among the richest in terms of resources can be among the poorest in terms of the living standards of the people.
Though the reasons are varied; suffice to say that greedy, retrogressive and unfocused leadership ranks top among the reasons why Taita-Taveta is yet to achieve sustainable development goals and move away from poverty and marginalization.
It would be a blanket lie to say that the county lacks technocrats and professionals who can steer Taita- Taveta to greater heights. On the contrary, this county has produced some of the most brilliant, resolute and hardworking professionals who are doing high ranking jobs in others counties and even abroad.
However, the main stumbling block has been our myopic leaders who view every professional and technocrat who wants to right things for the better as a political threat.
I have had contacts with a number of our professionals who aver that unless the current crop of leaders are completely dispensed with ,devolution will remain a mere mirage.
But maybe the question that begs to be answered is: Where did the rains begin to beat us?
Though we can go back several years, suffice to say that what we have lost as investments to the county is mind-boggling, leave alone the Sh 1 billion stolen by official looters and thieves in the county government.
Available information indicates that in the past seven years alone, Taita- Taveta county has lost investment opportunities of over Sh 80 billion in development projects.
Top among these include a Korean investor who wanted to establish a facility known as Sun City Gold Park as well as a cement plant all valued at over Sh 35 billion two years ago, but was stopped for unexplained reasons.
Another European investor who had wanted to implement a Green Energy project estimated at Sh 15 billion as well as an inland container depot whose value we could not ascertain is another case in point of invaluable development projects that have come a cropper due to political interference.
On the other hand a number of prestigious institutions which had intended to invest billions in the county were also forced to pull out after leaders continued bickering over availability of land.
These include the Jesuits University which was to include a medical school and hospital approximated to cost Sh 4 billion, a branch of Daystar University which could have cost Sh 2 billion and Starehe Center project worth over Sh 2 billion.
This is an indictment of our county government, which seems to lack an effective investment policy to guide and manage these potential investments.
However, it must be underscored that in all the above failed development projects, the land factor stands out supreme.
A glaring case in point is the National Youth Service Training College which stalled because of a border dispute between Mgeno land grazers in Mwatate constituency and Teri B group ranch in Voi constituency.
In these unfolding scenarios, most investors were compelled to move to other counties where communities were willing to work with them and more paramount, where land was available.
Though there are many more cases to illustrate why our county can aptly be described as “a land of missed opportunities” ,the question that begs an answer is: Who is going to liberate us from this self inflicted poverty and marginalization and make Taita-Taveta great?
The land factor
Land is a prime factor of production. In Taita-Taveta county about 62 per cent of the land mass is occupied by the Tsavo national park, translating to 21,000 square kilometers.
The ranches and private sisal farms take up the remaining large tracts of land.
It’s therefore imperative to ask if all this land is being utilized effectively or if it should be converted to other economically viable uses.
Apart from Tsavo which is an exclusive conservation area the ranches and vast sisal farms should be brought into focus.
Firstly, sisal farming has been losing its economic potential gradually, owing to drastic fall in world prices, which has been attributed to stiff competition from synthetic materials.
It’s therefore pertinent that the issue of large tracts of land under the crop in Taita-Taveta county be brought under review.
Secondly it’s a known fact that most of the ranches in the county are grossly underutilized.
In the event that these ranches cannot be restocked and effectively utilised , why can’t they be converted to, say, special economic zones, so that investors can set up projects that will create employment and spur the economic status of Taita-Taveta county?
It is a shame that investors can pull out of our county on the pretext that there is no land for them to put up investment projects.
The truth is that there is adequate land for economic development. The only problem is prioritization.