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Engineers can help nurture skills for lasting prosperity

By Nicholas Gumbo | May 17th 2015

There is new impetus to exploit natural resources for the betterment of Kenyans’ lives. This impetus is driven by recent discoveries of natural resources in parts of the country. Increased demand for electricity and uncertainties surrounding traditional resources such as Hydro have given rise to a need to exploit other electricity generation resources. Policy interventions such as formation of GDC, which has drastically reduced risks for investors in the exploitation of our Geothermal Resources, as well as an improved investment climate in Kenya, have added to the drive and attracted major global players.

These discoveries mean Kenya now has, and is continuing to develop, a vibrant resource exploitation industry that presents new opportunities, many of them for engineers. But to exploit these opportunities, engineers must move beyond traditional roles and learn new skills in many areas.

Meanwhile, they cannot afford to be disinterested players with regard to the legislative environment, particularly laws that impact their work directly.

The 11th Parliament, particularly The National Assembly, offers no apologies in valiantly pursuing laws that uphold the dignity of Kenyans and unapologetically seeks to put the wealth of our country in the hands of Kenyans.

Professionals’ contribution in making amendments to the recently passed Public Procurement and Asset Disposal Bill for it to directly address matters of concern to Kenyan professionals, including engineers, must be lauded.

At least, we will now have a law that recognises that the process of procuring toothpicks cannot be the same as that of procuring professional services.

The law also gives a big share of any work undertaken by foreigners in Kenya to Kenyans. This therefore means work on the regulations to operationalise The Engineers Act must be finalised so that Kenyan engineers take full advantage of the very Kenyan-Professional-friendly provisions of this law.

Engineers should extend laudatory salutations to the MPs who made the new Public Procurement law conducive to their work. The MPs went beyond the call of duty to ensure this law is aligned to the aspirations of the Kenyan professional. The honourables Simon Ogari (Bomachoge Chache), Humphrey Njuguna (Gatanga), Johnson Sakaja (nominated) and, of course, yours truly Eng Nicolas Gumbo, presented more than 500 amendments, and sat for over 100 hours with relevant departmental committees to achieve the goal.

However, having a good law and practising the same will not necessarily always strike a convergence.

The role of the private sector in perpetuating corruption remains a big concern. It is almost becoming unquestionable that for every public officer involved in corruption, there is a private entity, or individual, in tango. We must stem this sad reality.

Public resources are meant for public good. We need a total shift in the way we view, relate with, and deploy public resources if the corruption dragon is to be slayed for good.

The role of quality education and training cannot be overemphasised. Quality education and training are powerful predictors of the wealth that a country will produce in the long run.

It is therefore not a coincidence that countries that seek to develop and give their people a higher quality of life start by placing huge investments in education and trainingIndeed, without a well-educated and well-trained workforce, particularly engineers, the pursuit of opportunities and capacity building in emerging natural resources discoveries in our country will be a mirage. Kenyans cannot afford to be indifferent by-standers as foreigners make our country their playground in the exploitation of our natural resources. Quality education and training will provide the solid elbow for Kenyans to claim the centre-stage.

In any country, engineers sit at the top with regard to who receives the highest premium in what any education system has to offer.

Not only does engineers’ training gobble up huge amounts of public resources, but most times the result of that training is to place the professionals atop the societal pyramid. It must therefore be engineers’ core mandate to give back to society by choosing to be valiant warriors in fighting the myriad societal ills, like poverty.

As the late model statesman Lee Kwan Yew of Singapore once said, the enduring challenge for all must always be to seek a fair, not welfare, society. We will achieve this by always remembering that at all times, the world does not owe any of us a living.

In fact, no country, nor individual, can hope to live by always holding out the begging bowl.

Together with just a few like-minded colleagues, Muhammed bin Rashid al Makhtoum, driven by nothing but superhuman conviction, excessive love for their people and total disdain of the word ‘impossible’, turned a tiny patch of the Arabian desert with boiling-point temperatures and nothing but infinite expanses of sand, into one of the most prosperous communities on earth.

It is the vision of these determined men that created the model Emirate of Dubai in just over a decade. It has been done. It can be done again. But to do so, we must completely dislike being contented with always taking up second place.

We will achieve this by building a generation of hard-working and creative young entrepreneurs with great courage and ambition, and a prodigious sense of responsibility to our nation. We must be a nation that harnesses the energy of its citizens towards generating optimism and hope, as opposed to social tensions, untoward vices like corruption, unrest, inter-clan conflicts and war. Engineers can lead the way by ensuring huge amounts of resources, both human and capital, are directed towards the training of young professionals.

This can be done by introducing a levy for compulsory internship programmes for young Kenyans who leave universities/colleges to build sufficient capacity to be able to fully exploit opportunities and capacity building in emerging natural resources in Kenya.

As al Makhtoum says in his famous book, Flashes of Thought, “Those who want to live in luxury for one year grow wheat; Those who want to live in luxury for ten years grow trees; Those who want to live in luxury for one hundred years grow people.”

Let us grow our people.

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