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Discourse on manufacturing in Kenya raises pertinent issues

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The ‘Manufacturing Kenya’s Future’ discussion at the fourth the edition of the Nation Leadership Forum raised pertinent issues affecting the key industry.

The panelists touched on the challenges faced by large scale manufacturers and small and medium enterprises in Kenya. The debate put key stakeholders including the government, private sector players and consumers at task to promote local products.

The main panelists included the Cabinet Secretary, Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, Hon. Adan Mohamed, the Chief Executive Officer, Kenya Association of Manufacturers, Phyllis Wakiaga, the General Manager, Coca Cola East and Central Africa Franchise, Ahmed Rao, the Chief Executive Officer, Crown Paints Kenya, Rakesh Rao, Associate Professor of Entrepreneurship, University of Nairobi, Prof. Bitange Ndemo and the Chief Executive Officer, FUNKIDZ, Wanjiru Waithaka.

Kick starting the discussion, the Cabinet Secretary highlighted the governments’ support for local produce.

“One thing that we should be proud of as a country is that we are one of the few countries in the world who have achieved the SGD goals in terms of clean renewable energy. Kenyan manufacturers should be proud of what they produce,” said Hon. Mohamed. “I am really keen to hear from Kenyans and get to know what is in their minds as far as manufacturing is concerned. We do not have incentives for foreign investors, we have incentives for all investors because what we want to do is attract investment to our country; both domestic and foreign.”

He noted that Kenya faces various challenges that should be addressed.

“Many years back we were in the same position as Singapore and Korea. But over the years, we have had immense underinvestment,” said the Cabinet Secretary. “We were a closed society and people used to wear garments made in Kenya.”

“We tend to ignore the social benefits of manufacturing because this sector has the ability to reduce social inequality and alleviate poverty and increase productivity,” noted Phyllis Wakiaga. “One of the main challenges that affects the ‘Buy Kenyan Build Kenya’ is the cost of production- it constrains the sectors growth. We need to formalize the informal sector. The social importance of the manufacturing sector should not be ignored. It is a sector that can reduce social inequality.”

Prof. Ndemo said that it is important to link technology into manufacturing.

“If we even invested in manufacturing of vehicle parts using 3D printing technology, we will create thousands of jobs. We must begin to think about long life learning,” he elaborated. “Along Ngong Road, for example, you will see many people who are making furniture but that furniture cannot be exported because they cannot make three identical seats.”

In Ahmed Rady’s view, Kenya is placed in a strategic position.

“This is the right time to invest in Kenya as this gives you access not only to East Africa but to the whole of sub-Saharan Africa,” he said. “We have to focus on what we have locally and see how we can capitalize on them. The Kenyan work force has the ability to learn continuously and that is an important asset we can capitalize on.”

Wanjiru Waithaka of FUNKIDZ put a challenge across.

“If only the so called CEOs could come out of those air conditioned offices and see what happens on the ground, they will get to understand what it takes to manufacture because even transport is by God’s grace, we have no roads,” she said.  “Imagine everything manmade that you touch from the moment you wake up, the toothbrush, the toilet bowl you sit on, where is it made? Why are you not supporting Kenya? Support SMEs, and stop calling us Jua kali. We are SMEs. It is a pity that not even our shirt buttons are made in Kenya. All we need is the right technology.”

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