President Uhuru Kenyatta spoke exclusively with KTN News on the role that the manufacturing sector is set to play in achieving his ambitious legacy projects under the broad Big Four agenda. The following are President Kenyatta’s insights on the progress so far and what his vision means for the country.
Q. How will the Big Four agenda impact mwananchi?
A. You have to go back to the base. Why the focus is on these four agenda that are also underlined by Vision 2030. These are to provide decent work for our people, ensure that we have a healthy, educated society and that every Kenyan is given a guarantee to affordable decent housing. Overall, manufacturing is a critical competent of our ability to provide housing, healthcare and food. It is a critical ingredient for all the pillars that we have set out for ourselves.
We are focused on improving the business environment and have worked hard to remove barriers, which has seen us improve from 120 when we took office to the current ranking of 60 in the ‘ease of doing business’ ranking. We are pushing to bring ourselves to below the number 50 mark in the near future. It is aimed at one thing — creating opportunities for our people and that is why we are focused on better roads, energy, infrastructure and other enablers.
We are making good progress and have gone quite some distance. We are still not there but we are keen to ensure that over the next few years, every Kenyan is able to achieve the basics of life and enjoy a decent and comfortable living in their country.
Q. There have been many instances where companies have shut down operations in Kenya citing factors such as high cost of energy, poor transport infrastructure and corruption, among other hurdles. What is your administration doing to put a stop to this and attract investors to Kenya?
A. It is true that some have left but we have three or four times the number of new companies setting up while others have expanded their capacity and investments in the country. This means they are producing more and hiring more Kenyans. Some may have moved because they have consolidated their operations in other countries.
Businesses sometimes move from one country to another for reasons sometimes not associated with that country but associated with their global strategy. We have almost 300 new companies that have come and set up base in Kenya.
There are complaints about cost of power and infrastructure. We have listened and are focused on increasing the power-generation capacity through provision of affordable and clean power. For instance, we have moved connectivity to the grid from 32 per cent to 77 per cent in seven years. It is as a result of investments that we have made in those areas. When I came to power, the cost of power connection was Sh75,000 but today you get that at about Sh15,000.
These are all things that we have been working on to make accessibility to the ingredients that allow people to do business easier and cheaper. Those challenges were there; we have not dealt with all of them. But we are a long way towards ensuring that we are able to deal with the challenges that businesses felt were an impediment to their ability to succeed in our country.
Cheap importsQ. Products by Kenyan manufacturers have been overrun by an influx of cheap imports. What is the Government’s plan in enabling locally-made products have a competitive edge in the local and export markets?
A. First and foremost, we need a cultural change. For long, people have thought that imported goods were better. We encourage that ability to appreciate our products. that’s why we came up with the policy of Buy Kenya Build Kenya, encouraging our people to buy local goods and are saying that in government, a certain percentage of goods that we buy must come from our industries. When we were launching Rivatex, I said we should consider wearing locally made clothes at least once a day in a week and be proud of what our young designers and Kenyans are making.
With the housing programme, there will be certain elements that will be restricted to our informal or jua kali sector. In a few weeks, we will be launching one particular project where Sh850 million will go to our people in Dagoretti and other places for the manufacture of doors, windows and other such items. We have said there will be no importation of these products. In tenders, we want to have a 30 per cent quota that is local.
As we start relaunching other industries such as Rivatex, Thika Mills and Kenya Cotton Mills among others, we will create capacity but also consumption of what our people make. We should be able to develop pride in wearing a Kenyan-made shirt over wearing a second-hand and used shirt from other places.
Q. Is the fight on corruption having any impact in terms of growing the manufacturing sector?
A. If you look at what has happened at the ports of entry and the removal of illicit goods that have been coming in and result in a lot of local manufacturing either shutting down or downsizing, the report we are getting is that local manufacturers have seen their sales double. We want to be strict, protect our industries and make them more competitive but we also want them not to take advantage and exploit Kenyans by overpricing their products.
It is a give-and-take that we have been working on for some time and it is bearing fruit. There are a number of companies that are expanding their capacity because they have seen there is a government in place that is willing and ready to protect their interests.
Q. How can the sector increase its contribution to the economy to 15 per cent of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in the next three years as envisioned in the Big Four agenda?
A. Rome was not built in a day. What this requires is commitment and I have been focused in encouraging our people that to achieve our objective, we cannot be in an environment of constant bickering and politicking. We must have a plan. It might not be achieved totally during my term but if we begin to lay the foundations and start building the blocks, we will have a house at the end of the day. This is why I have reached out to my friends across the political divide and said yes, politics will come and as a democracy we have accepted that. But it cannot be every day. The vision that we have and agree on cannot be achieved if we do not pool our resources or have the ability to discuss and talk to one another. We are not going to constantly look at every facet of what we do from the eyes of politics. We need to look at it from the eyes of the development agenda and the vision that we jointly have for Kenya. I will continue to reach out to our people and leadership across the divide. That is the whole basis of the Building Bridges Initiative - that what we do, we should recognise is not about me as the President but about Kenya and her people.
Q. What is the status of the other three agenda in the Big Four?
A. We are making good progress. We are engaging with counties especially on health, which is a devolved function that will require a great deal of partnership between the national and county governments. There is progress with the pilot counties in Kisumu, Machakos, Isiolo and Nyeri and we are hoping to roll out the affordable universal healthcare across all counties. We have started the housing programme that entails different programmes and you will see us launching them across the country. We are seeing possibilities of job creation through manufacturing.
We are looking at the resource bucket that we have and how we can manage that, putting in place laws and regulations. Ultimately we will get there. Results will not be instantaneous but I am confident that we are heading in the right direction. Challenges are there and I face them every waking moment but the commitment is there and we will get to where we want to be.