Irony of poverty in rich coastal region

In Taita Taveta for instance, gemstones and other precious minerals are in abundance but poverty is still rampant here and many people are squatters.

A woman outside her house in Kishushe where mining of the iron ore has been going as they leave in poverty
A woman outside her house in Kishushe where mining of the iron ore has been going as they leave in poverty

The six Coast region counties of Kwale, Mombasa, Kilifi, Taita Taveta, Tana River and Lamu are all endowed with vast resources, but not much has been done to unlock this wealth for the benefit of the people.

The collapse of Jumuiya Ya Kaunti Za Pwani – the proposed economic bloc for the six counties meant to address the region’s challenges — is also a pointer to how deep the region is reeling from under-development.

In Taita Taveta for instance, gemstones and other precious minerals are in abundance but poverty is still rampant here and many people are squatters.

Mr Charles Karisa, a senior manager for policy and tax at Deloitte, says the region has failed on its priorities, like food security.

“In Kilifi, every time there is drought, there is a big challenge of food security but that has not been well addressed,” he says.

Region governors do not regard food security as a priority investment area although agriculture is a devolved function.

DEVELOPMENT AGENDA

“You cannot have a county with people who can’t feed well and then expect them to work hard and achieve their development agenda.,” he said.

The coastal belt is a rich agricultural zone suitable for cash crops like cashew nuts and coconuts.

Kwale, was once known for a vibrant cashew nut and coconut industry, but all that is gone.

This, too, is home to huge titanium reserves, in Msambweni. However, the crop development sector here is down on its knees, and the story of mineral over-exploitation remains just as sad, if the lamentations of the locals are anything to go by.

Wananchi in Zigira in Msambweni constituency told the Nation that they will protest against plans to relocate them to pave way for exploration of minerals in their village.

But why are the people poor if the region is this rich?

POLITICAL CLASS

Coast failures are believed to be partly caused by the political class. In the face of the allure of rich land and minerals, the region has remained under-developed, with leader after leader since independence failing to address the key challenges facing the population.

As a result, lives have been miserable for the coastal communities, more than 50 years after Kenya gained its independence.

In Mombasa, tourism and fishing are some of the main economic pillars of the county, but the poverty rate, especially in marginalised areas, is worrying, with large areas going without basic essentials like clean water and adequate sanitation.

Cases of locals invading land and the never-ending squatter problems have troubled Mombasa for long and no solution has been found yet.

The Mombasa port — East Africa’s largest — has for long been the source of jobs and other opportunities for coastal people.

IMPORTED CARGO

However, under a Kenya Ports Authority restructuring programme that has seen large portions of imported cargo now being delivered to Nairobi using the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), job losses are imminent in supporting industries such as transport and hospitality.

Politicians, sadly, have yet to give attention to the matter.

In Kilifi, Lamu and Tana River counties, the major economic activity is fishing and agriculture but the collapse of the once-vibrant cashew nut factory in Kilifi in the early 1990s spelt doom for the sub-sector, which subsequently folded.

“With the death of the Kenya Cashew Nut Factory came the death of livelihoods for more than 80 per cent of the residents of Kilifi,” said governor Amason Kingi when he initiated a European Union-funded cashew nut value chain in the county recently.

Voters have been expecting elected leaders to address these issues, but the region’s politicians are busy campaigning for the 2022 General Election.

SUGAR SECTOR

During the homecoming party for Matuga MP Kassim Tandaza, several MPs under the banner of the Coast Parliamentary Group took to the podium to criticise each other as they campaigned for their 2022 presidential preferences.

Changamwe MP Omar Mwinyi, a close ally of Mr Raila Odinga and Mombasa Governor Hassan Joho, hit out at those supporting Deputy President William Ruto’s 2022 presidential bid.
“You are given seven kilometres of tarmacked road and then you start singing about a person,” he said.

That invited a quick reaction from the DP’s allies, who said the legislator was on someone’s payroll.

Ironically, the leaders talked about the collapsed sugar sector, bixa and other failures in the county, but non gave a sign that they would pursue the issues.
~ Nation Media Group

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