Kenyan Markets Have Great Potential in Our Economy but A lot has to be Done

9 mins read

Kenyan markets are big in the news today after President Ruto in his big tour of Nyanza opened one in Homa Bay. That is a good investment by the Homa Bay County government and Kenyans need to learn from it. I literally grew up in the market where my mother had two different stores, one for food and fruits and the other one for clothes.

That particular market was moved some years back and the good thing was that those who owned plots and stores there were all listed and got slots at the new market. It is a big deal when these new markets are built because a few people can buy the whole market and then rent them out. In our case, it was done properly and my sisters now own the plots in the new market because they took my mother’s plots.

Number one big problem in these markets is that there is no electricity or power of any kind. You can bring your own noisy generator to the market. Kenyans need properly functioning power in the markets and as everybody knows that is the least important thing for politicians. The other trouble for the businesses in those markets is that they have no storage facilities where you can lock your stuff safely. People build up their own make-shift storage.

There is zero maintenance and that becomes a health and safety risk very fast. And the worst problem of all is that there are no fire prevention or fire fighting capacity of any kind in those markets. We hear every day about Gikomba Market going up in smoke but it happens everywhere all over the country. It would have been really surprising and very helpful if all those politicians at Homa Bay market promised the business people there that they are installing electricity and will build all the infrastructure needed to make the market work.

In fact, it would have been nice if William Ruto used that opportunity to promise all Kenyans that his government working with the counties are going to invest in making local big markets across the country serious business places with all the amenities to make them good places to work and make some good income.

In fact, investing in our markets will be a real economic boost to local folks and it will cost way less than the Shs. 50 billion Hustle Fund and deliver real economic benefits to local people at the grassroots. I would urge our county governors through their networks to come up with a market-building and promotion plan and work with the Ruto government to make that achievable across the country.

One project the county governments and MPs after they finish eating the CDF money can look at is working with international agencies and foreign governments to help install all-year-round solar electric power in our markets. Everybody keeps talking about climate change and all we do is plant trees after cutting down grown trees.

Climate Change has its own economic opportunities and in a place like Kenya right on the Equator with all-year sunshine, we can approach foreign countries and international funders to help us provide solar energy in our markets, in our hospitals, and for our towns.

If some governor is smart enough to come up with such a plan in a comprehensive plan for Climate Change economy to use sunshine which we have in abundance to bring electric power to our towns, they will get funders from across the globe.

I am going to talk to my own governor to look into that. Governor Sakaja can also do that in parts of Nairobi and Prof. Ayang’ Nyong’o has a real good chance to set that up in Kisumu City. But I have to talk with my own governor James Orengo to pull a plan like that off and get solar energy in all those booming towns in his county. Put something like that in Ugunja town, Yala, and Bondo town just to name a few and you are in business to develop the whole area.

So that is a good investment by the Homa Bay County government but a lot more needs to be done. Some of the nicest places Kenyans go for anything from food, clothes, and just about everything else are our open and semi-open markets.

Biashara Street Market in Mombasa is considered one of the best when businesses picked up ten of the best markets in Kenya.

It looks pretty clean, there are storage facilities and some electricity. The great benefit from these markets is that you get fresh local produce from farmers around those area and also get stuff from across the country.

Then of course we have the Craft and Arts Markets including the famous Maasai Market in Nairobi. These are huge commercial entities that bring all sorts of shoppers including tourists. And we have Craft markets all over Kenya and different communities specialize in their specific Craft expertise and produce what Kenyans need.

This is a complete industry in Kenya and those Craft and Arts products are sold all over the world. One area where the Kenya government could really help these artists and business people mainly women would be to help build exporting capacity for those in the business. The prices of those items multiply by ten when they are sold in the export market but establishing an export system is very difficult for small traders so one way to help would be to get people to come together in groups.

In a practical sense, there is a lot of development and we have this tendency to think it will drop from the sky.

There is a lot of talk about local economies. The first thing we need to look at is what we have rather than what we hope to have and we have a lot on our hands. If we did our job properly, Kenya would never be importing food to feed starving citizens. We have enough land to produce every bit of food we need and more for export. If we can figure out that missing link which is terrible farming, commercial, and trading infrastructure we would be heading somewhere in a hurry.

The one good thing that happened with the Ruto Nyanza visit is that there was a group of politicians and some floaters who were looking for a groupie sort of circus event where they are seen as the new heroes of the region with Ruto and they would be spitting dirt on Raila Odinga as being politically dead.

President Ruto played them like little toys which is probably what they are. Ruto made a good decision not to make this a trip a rerun of the 2022 elections or some petty gamble on 2027. Now the next step is to put real development plans on the ground.

Adongo Ogony is a Kenyan Human Rights Activist and a Writer who lives in Toronto, Canada

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