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Producing something better than being a salesperson

Opinion
The Kabete National Polytechnic. [XN Iraki]

When we think of entrepreneurship in Kenya, the first thing that comes to mind is buying something cheap and selling it at a higher price.

It could be from Eastleigh, Nairobi to rural areas or other parts of the city. Economists have a wider definition of entrepreneurship, seen more as a factor of production, where you optimally combine the other factors (land, labour and capital) to produce something, either for use at home or for sale at a profit. 

Attention could soon be declared the sixth factor of production after management.

When you ask someone if he has ever made anything, the simple is yes; chapati, ugali, muthokoi etc. When you add “for sale”, the answers become fewer. I once made cane chairs and made some money.

The truth is that few of us make anything for sale. Artisans from blacksmiths to carpenters do. But they do not enjoy lots of prestige. That’s the missing link in Kenya‘s economy. We prefer to buy and sell, not make and sell. This is the space manufacturers have taken. This is the space developed countries took over. 

And it’s a lucrative space because few get there, giving them little competition. The huge capital requirements serve as a barrier to entry. Think of setting up a brewery or a car manufacturing plant. 

A visit to an industrial area and the huge buildings leaves no doubt. You need lots of capital to set up a factory. Once you do that, you are there for the long haul. That’s why we should court manufacturers. They will not run away like investors who play with the stock or currency markets. 

Making something needs more than buildings, you need the knowhow. How do you mix chemicals, make alloys, design your machine among other tasks? Think of designing a plane. Some of the knowledge is protected by patents, giving the manufacturer more leverage.

In traditional society, the makers or manufacturers were protected by secrets (remember guilds) and in some cases rituals that involved occult sciences like witchcraft. How did Gaturi in Murang‘a become associated with witchcraft?

Our emphasis on Technical Vocational Education and Training is a step in the right direction. We need more makers. Shall we buy what they make? That’s the other missing link. We dislike indigenous products, preferring imports including children‘s names. 

Maybe future tenders should specify that you must make what you supply, not “broker” it. Let’s make Kenya the land of makers not buyers and sellers. What have you made for sale? Talk to us.

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