Welcome to Taiwan, land of semiconductors and paddies

A processor. [iStockphoto]

Semiconductor factories and stalls co-exist in Taiwan, which produces 60 per cent of the world's chips.

These are the tiny devices that run your phones, computers, and cars among other machines.

One would expect no small-scale traders in such an advanced economy. But they are there. In alleys and sidewalks, they sell everything from clothes to food. But they are more orderly.

Some of us think as we develop small businesses will end, replaced by malls and supermarkets. They are here to stay. That is the economic reality. Not just in Taiwan but globally.

In any economy, there will always be "small people" who can't make it to the high table either because of their family background, natural endowment or bad luck.

In Kenya, we seem to think such small businesses are a nuisance. Yet they provide the bulk of our jobs, 80 per cent. What makes you think it's so different in developed countries? The media or the movies?

For every Walmart or Carrefour, there are thousands of kiosks, small shops and less-known brands.

While Taiwan is known for semiconductors, most citizens know little about diodes, resistors, transistors and other items that make integrated circuits.

Their life is simple: what shall they eat? Where shall they sleep? What shall they wear? Such down-to-earth services are provided by traders with stalls or shops in Taiwan and other developed countries. In Kenya, hawking supplements them.

Ideally, such hustlers eventually graduate into bigger things and hopefully end up owning factories, if they are facilitated.

Do we nurture such small businesses? We even have a ministry for them. When shall we stop complaining about the "missing middle?" Very many small businesses, a few big ones and a few in the middle, more like a vase.

A visit to developed countries leaves no doubt that small businesses are not about to vanish. We should accept that reality, more so in our countries and help them thrive. Don't we nurture children into adults? They form the backbone of any economy.