EDITORIAL: County wealth ranking masking reality on ground

The World Bank has just released an economic report that includes the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) distribution in the country. What is most interesting is the shares of per capita incomes by counties.

Although the rankings on the most part are not very surprising, they reconfirm that some areas that have traditionally been favoured by national planning or geographical location have the best incomes. Kiambu tops followed by counties around or near Nairobi as well as urban areas.

What might shock many readers though is the fact that Nairobi is ranked eighth. The assumption over the years is that the capital city naturally has the highest incomes as it hosts a huge chunk of the upper and middle income.

However, it appears the huge slum populations are significant enough to weigh the balance against the city especially as more and more of the new middle income and the rich move to less congested areas of Kiambu, Machakos, Kajiado and even Murang’a.

The statistics get even more curious when Kwale and Laikipia, which host the Super Rich are averaged as 5th and 6th respectively. Some of the poorest populations including squatters are known to be domiciled there.

This brings us to the question of income inequalities. It is becoming a huge issue and in some counties it potentially threatens the socio-economic fabric. For example in the counties mentioned above, the said high incomes are concentrated in the urban areas, mostly a belt bordering or linked to Nairobi or some other bustling town. The rest of the county, like in Kajiado and in Kwale is a sea of poverty.

This means that the government and counties have to consciously go out of their way to help the laggards —some already physically experiencing the pinch of urban encroachment —catch up or at least eradicate extreme poverty.

This can be done by injecting resources into potentially productive and impactful sectors of the county while balancing this with growth of the high-income zones with capacity of lifting the poor ones. Parliament must legislate this to save the sparsely populated areas from tyranny of urban numbers.

This is on top of using the national resources as a tool for equalisation, which is already happening. Apart from enhancing stability, such a move will raise the standards of living for both the rich and the poor.