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Economy

The East African powerhouse

For decades, Kenya has been perceived as a political role model and the economic powerhouse of East and Central Africa. Its free market economy, a stable democracy, high education levels, a comparably good infrastructure and a favorable geographic location, half way from Cairo to Cape Town, have greatly contributed to its regional significance. Because of the Mombasa port, which is East Africa's largest in cargo handling, Kenya also plays a vital role as a transit country for goods to and from the landlocked nations of East and Central Africa.

Kenya's main export markets are the UK, the Netherlands, Uganda and Tanzania. Most imports are from India, followed by China, the United Arab Emirates and South Africa. The country greatly benefits from Nairobi's informal role as the major economic, cultural and political hub of the region. Kenya's capital city is home to numerous conservational, charitable and political NGO's, three UN organizations and international media.

Agriculture and Fisheries

Around 70 percent of Kenyans work in agriculture. After India, China and Sri Lanka, Kenya is the world’s fourth largest tea producer. Coffee is another major export plant of superior quality. More than ten percent of Kenya's export value is generated from cut flowers and vegetables. Other cash crops worth mentioning include pyrethrum, where Kenya is a world market leader, and sisal. Commercial dairy and beef farms are mostly found in the highlands and the Rift Valley. The fishing industry is relatively small, although Nile perch is exported from Lake Victoria to Europe on a large scale.

Minerals

Kenya is not considered mineral-rich even though recent prospects have hinted at potential significant reserves of minerals. Kenya’s best known mineral export is soda ash, mined from Lake Magadi. It is used in the making of glassware, paper and industrial chemicals. Fluorspar is another significant mineral from Kenya.

However, recent geological surveys indicate that the country’s mineral wealth could have been understated; commercially viable reservoirs of oil and gas were identified in Turkana and off the coast in 2012, and a particularly rich seam of coal has been found in Ukambani.

The South Coast is also emerging as a resource rich location, with findings of titanium and niobium being reported. The niobium deposits alone are estimated to be worth $35 billion.

Precious stones are usually mined by artisanal miners, and small scale gold mines exist in the western region of the country.

Industrial sector

The entire industrial sector accounts for just under a fifth of the gross domestic product. Kenya has strong food and cement industries and large textile and shoe factories. Industries are however confined to major towns. Nairobi actually boasts the largest industrial area between Cairo and Johannesburg. Other cities with notable industries include Mombasa, Thika, Nakuru and Eldoret.

Service sector

The service sector is by far the biggest economic sector of the country, providing more than 60% of the GDP. Tourism is its most important subsection, earning the country the third highest amount of foreign exchange and supplying about one-tenth of all jobs. International tourist arrivals numbered slightly above one million in 2012, but according to targets from the Ministry of Tourism, this should rise to three million in the years to come. The Kenyan music and film industries have been growing exceptionally in recent years.

The Future

The central pillar of Kenya's strive for a better future is the Kenya Vision 2030 development agenda that proclaims major goals and identifies the most significant challenges which must be tackled. The overall goal of the Kenya Vision2030 is to turn Kenya into a middle income country by the year 2030. This seems to be quite ambitious, but in fact, Kenyans have started to embrace the vision, encouraged by the success stories of other nations, such as Brazil, China, India and Korea that have elevated themselves from the ranks of developing countries.

The first positive effects of the Kenya Vision2030 can be felt already through the improving road infrastructure of the country. The biggest investment package planned for by the Kenyan government and its partners is the Northern Transport Corridor, which comprises of a new harbor in Lamu as well as a pipeline, a highway and a new railway line connecting the landlocked neighboring countries of Ethiopia, South Sudan and Uganda with the Indian Ocean.

Within the framework of the development agenda of Kenya Vision 2030, the sector of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) has been specifically promoted by the past and the current government. The single biggest project comprises of Konza City, a techno city popularly referred to as Kenya’s Silicon Savannah, which is going to be constructed some 50 kilometers from the capital Nairobi.

The Kenyan real estate market has been booming for years, with gated communities and furnished apartments springing up every so often.

Challenges

The post-election violence and the global economic crisis that occurred in 2008 stymied Kenya’s growth, it was back to a rate of 4.7% in 2012, though. During the past decade, the Kenyan middle class has significantly grown and education levels remain high, yet roughly half of Kenya's population still lives below the poverty line. The annual per capita income for 2012 was US$ 1,800 while the unemployment hovered around 40 percent. However, a huge share of officially unemployed is absorbed by the informal sector, locally known as Jua Kali. Kenya’s foreign debt currently stands at US$ 10 billion.

Some of the major challenges for Kenya's economy are brought about by the rapid population growth which will absorb a significant share of the country's financial resources to keep existing standards in health care, housing, infrastructure and education. Since planning and implementation of proper regulations still falls behind necessities in most sectors, pressure on the country's natural resources will rise significantly and put a risk to the significant tourism sector. As much as the devolution of power is likely to spur regional development, the costs of running the central government as well as the 47 county governments could spiral out of control, possibly plunging the country into dire financial straits.