What are today your areas of interest ?
I spend a lot of time doing public work. I am trying to become more or less an activist, and get the Government to change or improve policies, in order to create an inductive business environment. But even since I am an investor, I am still doing the same either directly or through our association. Having made a very familiar name in the country, I am constantly involved in meetings, interviews, press, radio and TV. I am also focusing on developing governance ethics.
The Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) is trying to promote corporate governance as a major player. We also have another organisation that is looking after business governance promotion in companies, especially public quoted companies, and encourage them to become transparent. Hopefully, this kind of practices will eventually filter also to the government.
I am also involved in Global Coalition for Africa. I have just come back from Canada where I participated in meetings aimed at organising the conference of Presidents in Botswana later this year. In the Corporate Council for Africa, the Presidents meet every 5 years in order to discuss and develop issues and policies.
How would you characterize the level of entrepreneurship and competence among the Kenyan business community ?
A lot of people need more training. Finding good managers is fairly easy but finding quality entrepreneurs and investors is more difficult. You can be a very good manager but not a good investor. So far, our people have not had a chance to be exposed to high-level investment, partnering with international companies, and creating businesses across the borders. I think they lack the know-how, the research on what they can do. I hope that sometimes I can act as a model for people to learn through; I hope they learn through what I do, but we do need to empower our people. When I say our people, I mean Kenyans- the indigenous Kenyans – because no nation can strive if the investment is only a foreign one. So, we need to transit them from being farmers, shopkeepers and small restaurants to investing in high technology for instance.
What should be the role of government in that process ?
I think government must create an enabling environment, and also make sure that their Research Centres supporting these people are adjoined. It’s not a one-way support.
How do you perceive the collaboration between private institutions, and the government in the economic field ?
We are still struggling to better understand each other. We need to get more exposure of the civil servants into what is the impact of business. I believe it is coming, but it’s coming in a negative way because government is retrenching a lot of workers. Therefore, these workers are now looking for jobs in the private sector, but the private sector is going through a recession. People have now come to realise that the need for alternative employment centres is important. I am sure that people who remain in the government will do their best to create the right environment for the private sector, which can be an engine for economic growth.
What could be the impact of the Small and Medium sized Enterprises in fostering job creation ?
It’s nice that you ask that because I am involved in that sector. I am the Finance Chairman for the “Jua-Kali” sector; it gathers the small micro and medium operators. It is the base of a growing economy. I believe government can do more to support these people.
These people need revenue, access to funding and technical support. They need advisory services in marketing and product designing, and these are not coming forward. The government itself, being totally ignorant about business, doesn’t know how to advise them. What we are trying to do now, through other institutions like the World Bank, is to empower this sector because it is the only alternative source of creating jobs and livelihood for the people. Indeed, farming which was the alternative source is now choked with too much population. The agricultural sector is not doing very well; coffee is facing pricing problems – and costs when managing a coffee farm are high. Moreover, not everybody can have a piece of land to grow vegetables.
That sector also needs to develop to become more organised in their means of production. Anyone doing business should be trained at how to keep records, how to keep Books of Accounts, whether they are making money or losses. Some people just work but they don’t know they are not making money. So they need training on that level to understand what business is all about – and I do hope we can work together in partnership with the government to support this small sector.
I am personally appealing to big corporations to support the small industries. I am trying to create linkages between small people and big corporations. The big corporations can use what small people produce, and can also help them to open window-shops to sell the goods produced by these big corporations. A very successive example is the partnership with Coca-Cola. Coca-Cola is a very responsible corporate company. They are supporting these people; they are helping them to build up their ‘kiosks’; they are teaching them on how to run their businesses; they have a training school, and they have also assisted in giving funds. The Bank can also lend them money, and in doing so as a local initiative, it is possible to get additional international support to come in. I believe it is very important to cast some local initiatives undertaken by big corporations.
How crucial are the current negotiations between the government and the international financial community, World Bank and IMF in particular ?
To me, this is presently our life-blood. If government cannot come to an agreement with the IMF and the World Bank, it will cause a disaster in this nation. Right now, the government knows they cannot manage the economy without external support. They seriously need support, so they must do all that is required to become compliant and to open the doors to these Bretton Woods institutions, to other bilateral donors, the European Union and others who are waiting on the side to come back to support Kenya. So, we must address the issues of corruption and governance. We should downsize the size of the Government. Transparency and personal interests for these leaders who are in charge of various sectors must be addressed very quickly.
How can the private sector help in these negotiations ?
We help by pushing the government to achieve and do what they promise to do, because sometimes they promise certain things they don’t deliver. If they collapse, we also collapse as well. It is survival for all of us together. The monetary policies could collapse, so the interest rates and the inflation must be kept under check. This cannot happen if the government has got enough funds to run their responsibilities.
To your opinion, which reforms should Kenya implement in order to improve the East African economy ?
Actually, we need to check the inflation; we also need to make sure that we address the issue of national security. We need the government to be more efficient in the utilization of their resources. One aspect is to get certain resources, another one is how to use these resources, and how to achieve efficiency with the money spent. This comes back to the issue of governance transparency. I have also been advocating the issue of quality management. For many years, we have appointed people on jobs on the basis of tribalism and on “whom you know”. I think government must end up that policy. Right now we need the best captains in every sector to be able to drive the country forward in the right way. If you keep posted people who don’t understand what their role and their jobs are – the business and the country will just collapse. We know that in the private sector you cannot have a managing director who is not capable to run a business. The number of business plans put in place does not matter. So, it is time for the government to put the right people in the right jobs. The human factor is very important..
How optimistic are you for the future ?
I think the future for Kenya is here. I only feel sorry that we have lost a lot of opportunities. We lost time and we now have to face many challenges. The issue of the AIDS endemic; it is an issue which is going to give a new challenge to this nation. 20% of our people are in bed and want medical support. It is a very big challenge, not only for the government but for the families who are looking after this people; those who suffer the most are all the orphans, the children, the mothers who have nobody to support them. So there are major challenges ahead, and the only way to overcome them is to:
– Focus on the economy,
– Reform the government to a position that it can meet with these challenges
– Have the right people in the right place
– Stick to the right planning and reduce wastage (there is a lot of wastage).
We must also privatise all these means of production that the Government has been running inefficiently. Most parastatals must be transferred from public to private sector.
It is one of the issues that should be implemented because we must improve our supply of power, supply of telecommunications, supply of water. They can be run by the private sector in a more efficient manner.
To what extent can COMESA solve some of these issues ?
The most important thing is to harmonise our investment planning, to open markets for each other, so that we have bigger markets. We also need to market the region internationally because big investors don’t want to go to a small village; they want to operate in a big market size. Kenya, Uganda and Tanzania together will attract investors with more money.
Another important point is to trade among one another, buying from each other. Your best partner is your neighbour. So we must build this relationship and support each other so that all the economies can grow in the region.
At which stage are you as far as regional cooperation is concerned ?
We have only reached the talking phase. There is still a lot of suspicion. There is still a lot of resistance, wanting to keep the old ways of doing things; there is still a lot of jealousy. Nationalism needs to go beyond small interests and that must come from the leaders. The Presidents in the region must guide and move the process forward, otherwise there is no future. We must open the movement of labour, people must move from one region to the other; the European Union’s way shows that it can be achieved. The Americans are doing it, so are Canada and Mexico. Who are we not to embrace this same movement?.
What would you say are the most interesting niche markets for grab ?
I think Tourism is marketing Kenya and Uganda altogether well. We need investors in the infrastructure sector, which is huge and untouched. The roads, telecommunications, water and even Health Services, the Hospitals supply of drugs and medicines. All these infrastructure are still untapped.
What final message would you address to our readers ?
I would tell your readers to focus and visit the region; there is a good potential for growth, and plenty of opportunities. The cost of entry to the market is very low compared to other countries. There are good people who would like to find work opportunities. Unlike South Africa where labour is very militant, very labour-unionised, our labour force here is very good, very co-operating and that is very important for anybody investing in the region. There are a lot of opportunities. Kenya is a sleeping giant. One needs to be an adventurer and come and see where they can make their marks. So I do encourage people to come. Personally, I am investing here and I see nothing but opportunities; so I am investing more and my business is doing well. I do hope that I can help. You have my address, anybody wanting any enquiry, any support, I am here to support them.