The Making of a Major Talking Point in Azimio’s Election Pledges
Former Kenyan Prime Minister Raila Odinga promises to position the country as the productive hub of the East and Central Africa region if elected president in the August 9 general election.
Odinga, who is leading opinion polls, on Monday unveiled his Azimio One Kenya Coalition party’s election manifesto, promising continuity in the economic diplomacy of the current administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, while cutting borrowing which increased public debt and undermined the implementation of the Big Four development agenda of the latter’s second term.
Vice President William Ruto, the other favorite in the race to succeed President Kenyatta, is due to launch his campaign program on June 30.
The highlight of Azimio’s manifesto is the ambitious undertaking to increase the manufacturing sector’s share of GDP to 30% from the current 7.5%, citing the sector’s huge potential to create jobs and increase exports from Kenya to the regional market.
Kenya’s manufacturing sector is currently the most developed in the EAC, with at least 40% of goods exported to other countries in the region.
Its major exports to the EAC market include pharmaceuticals, petroleum, cement, steel, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and confectionery.
It is increasingly facing competition as neighboring countries build up domestic production capacity, impose cross-border trade rules and buy cheaper goods from China.
Kenyan manufacturers have also complained of rising energy costs, high taxes and counterfeits, which they say make locally produced goods less competitive with imports from countries like Egypt.
President Kenyatta has pledged to tackle some of the sector’s problems in his second term, making manufacturing one of the four pillars of his Big Four agenda and setting a target of 15% contribution to GDP.
With just two months left before his two constitutional terms expire, the manufacturing overhaul he promised remains a pipe dream.
If elected, Odinga says he will, among other things, improve fiscal and financial policies and regulations to promote and support manufacturing, review the cost of energy, transportation and logistics, and tackle counterfeits.
Mr Odinga, recognized for his role in bringing political stability to the country after his handshake deal with President Kenyatta in March 2018, enjoys the support of a number of local business tycoons.
The Azimio presidential candidate also has private interests in manufacturing, having founded LPG cylinder maker East Africa Specter in 1971.
However, his proposal to revive Kenya’s textile industry has already divided public opinion after he appeared to cast doubt on the future of the second-hand clothing sector – popularly known as mitumba.
The rival UDA party’s campaign seized on Mr Odinga’s remarks describing mitumba as clothes “worn by the dead” to portray the former prime minister as anti-poor.
For the past four years, Mr. Ruto has campaigned on a populist platform to give millions of the country’s micro-businesses, such as green grocers, handcart pushers and motorcyclists (bodabodas), the means to develop their activities.
It also intends to reform the judicial system to improve the investment climate and attract more foreign direct investment and revitalize industries such as leather, textiles, paper and animal feed.