By OTIENO OTIENO
Former Kenyan prime minister Raila Odinga is promising to position the country as the manufacturing hub for the East and Central African region if elected president in the August 9 General Election.
Mr Odinga, who is leading in opinion polls, unveiled his Azimio One Kenya Coalition party’s election manifesto on Monday, pledging continuity from the economic diplomacy of the current administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, while cutting down on borrowing that grew the public debt and undermined the implementation of the latter’s second-term Big Four development agenda.
Deputy President William Ruto, the other front-runner in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, is expected to launch his campaign agenda on June 30.
The key highlight of the Azimio manifesto is the ambitious undertaking to increase manufacturing’s share of GDP to 30 percent from the current 7.5 percent, citing the sector’s huge potential to create jobs and grow Kenya’s exports to the regional market.
Kenya’s manufacturing sector is currently the most developed in the EAC, with at least 40 percent of the goods exported to other countries in the region.
Its tops exports to the EAC market include pharmaceuticals, oil, cement, steel, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and sugar confectionery.
It is increasingly facing competition as neighbouring countries strengthen domestic production capacity, impose cross-border trade rules and buy cheaper products from China.
Kenyan manufacturers have also complained about increasing costs of energy, high taxes and counterfeits, which they say make locally produced good less competitive to imports from countries such as Egypt.
President Kenyatta undertook to fix some of the problems of the sector during his second term, making manufacturing one of the four pillars of his Big Four agenda and setting a target of 15 percent contribution to the GDP.
With just two months left to the expiry of his constitutional two terms in office, the manufacturing revamp he promised remains a pipe dream.
If elected, Mr Odinga says he will, among other things, improve taxation and finance policies and regulations to promote and support manufacturing, review the cost of energy, transport and logistics, and fight counterfeits.
Mr Odinga, credited for his role in ensuring political stability in the country after his Handshake deal with President Kenyatta in March 2018, enjoys the backing of a number of local business tycoons.
The Azimio presidential candidate also has private interests in manufacturing, having founded LPG cylinder maker East Africa Spectre in 1971.
However, his proposal to revive Kenya’s textile industry has already divided public opinion after he appeared to put the future of the second-hand clothes — popularly known as mitumba — business in doubt.
The rival UDA party campaign has seized on Mr Odinga’s remarks describing mitumba as clothes that have been “worn by dead people” to portray the former prime minister as anti-poor.
Mr Ruto has in the past four years campaigned on a populist platform of empowering millions of the country’s micro-enterprises such as green grocers, handcart pushers and motorbike riders (bodabodas) to scale their businesses.
He also intends to reform the justice system to improve the investment climate and attract more foreign direct investment and to revitalise industries such as leather, textiles, paper and animal feeds.