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Is Kiambu a county or country?

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If you follow a reasonably straight line from Munyu to Njabini, up to Kikuyu and down the bypass to Ruiru, you are taken aback by the illusion of the bigness of the place.

It’s not spatially big of course, compared to the gas giants of—but County 22 has content. It is wealthy, by our standards, with a contribution to wealth creation in the economy only second to Nairobi and a GDP of about Sh420 billion in 2017.

As a matter of fact, Nairobi, Kiambu, Nakuru, Mombasa and Meru contributed 46 per cent of wealth created in the national economy 2017-2020.

Kiambu is urbanised and industrialised compared to the average county. Agricultural production, agri-processing, heavy manufacturing, especially in Ruiru and Thika, and world-class services, particularly in education. It also has many people, 2.5 million, mainly concentrated in the urban and peri-urban belt.

If you take the temperature of the place, wako sawa (they’re alright)—as they would say at the bus stop in Wangige: Only six per cent have no education, another six per cent has done pre-primary, 48 per cent have done primary and the rest, 38 per cent, have secondary school or higher education.

By our standards, this is an educated population. Some 83 per cent of the children are vaccinated, three-quarters of the women are on contraception and access to piped water and sanitation is OK.

This is 2019 census data. And data is missing from our political discourse, which is informed more by ethnic sentiment and grievance rather than a generous understanding of the social and economic dynamics of the nations that make up our country and which buttons we need to press to create opportunities for disadvantaged counties.

I think the debate on inequality and unfair distribution and access to political power need to be broad and pragmatic. We, as a country, will never take away people’s wealth, nor will we ever limit your access to opportunity because you are rich.

Does Kiambu, where one neighbourhood, Ruiru, clinging to Nairobi’s fat rump like a stubborn barnacle, is the sixth-largest urban area in the country, punch above its political weight? Is it favoured in the distribution of political power and public resources? Did it become wealthy because of access to power or does it have access to power because it is wealthy?

These are interesting questions and they might enable us to draw up a template for a fairer society. But let me propose a few factors for reflection before we buy into the ideology of “let’s kill their companies and share the money amongst ourselves so that we are all equal” basement reasoning.

First, like Machakos and Kajiado, the Lord has blessed Kiambu with geography; it was in the right place at the right time, at the door-step of westernisation. In 1930, Kiambu was sending people to England for education. Meru Town was still a Samburu village and some of my relatives perhaps still believed that a real man has nothing to hide and were walking around in nothing but an ostrich feather and cowbells. The county stole a march on the rest and exploited its location and natural resources consistently. In the next 30 to 50 years, Kajiado and Machakos will also be unbelievably wealthy counties.

Secondly, the seed of westernisation fell on fertile ground. The folks learnt, changed and assimilated faster. In the 1950s, Kiambu tycoons lived in Karen and chauffeured their children to school. My grandfather, who had never seen a school, let alone ventured into one, was combing sheep hair on a white man’s farm in Timau. I think we took longer to get it.

Sitting among them in all manner of places, I have formed the impression that the good people of Kiambu, and the larger central Kenya, have a keen sense of common identity which they are adroit at exploiting for advantage. There is nothing unusual about this; you will find the same among the Kisii, in the Rift Valley, Northeastern and elsewhere. This is potentially advantageous, especially when you are taking off from a large base. I am not even sure that it should be discouraged or used to spur healthy competition.

In Kenya, we believe that you can’t have wealth unless you have stolen, you can’t win an election unless you have rigged, you can’t talk sense unless you are frothing with negativity.

For me, when I drove around County 22, I looked at these gorgeous estates not with envy and resentment but admiration and an incredible sense of hope. If they can do this, so can Tharaka-Nithi, Kilifi and Elgeyo Marakwet (which, by the way, in terms of GNP per capita, is one of the wealthiest counties).

So, yes, Kiambu is a county, but a very rich and powerful one. And it has an even brighter future—if it can stop electing clowns to run it.



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