Some of the biggest issues discussed at the opening day of the Manufacturing Expo 2017

By Gabriel Onyango

The Manufacturing Expo 2017 opening day, turned the KICC courtyard in Nairobi to a hive. Buzzing with activity, innovation, and productive discussions. The event brought together manufacturers, investors, government ministry’s, the United Nations and European Union. All represented through various bodies.

Mr. Adan Mohammed, Cabinet Secretary, Ministry of Industry, Trade and Cooperatives, delivered the keynote address praising manufacturers such as Kevian Kenya (Pick N Peel) , and Coca-Cola through its Minute Maid juices for using local products as raw materials. In that way, boosting local products.

Holding nothing back, the trade secretary said, “75 percent of global trade is in manufacturing; if you don’t manufacture, you don’t trade. We need to manufacture more for the private sector to thrive.”

Under the theme ‘Driving Local Competitiveness to Make Kenya a Manufacturing Hub for Africa‘, the Summit and Expo aims to promote business partnerships and identify binding constraints impeding the sector’s growth.

This comes in the wake of Africa’s awakening in realizing that our long-standing trade in primary-low value products such as unprocessed tea and coffee puts us at a disadvantage.  As the rest of the world industrializes and adds value, Africa’s foreign trade remains unbalanced.

Ms. Flora Mutahi, the Kenya Association of Manufacturers (KAM) chair in her address, reiterated this issue saying that manufacturing currently accounted for only 9.2 per cent of Kenya’s exports. With primary products (which earn less and are ironically imported to Kenya as high value processed products) accounting for a large portion of exports.

In her speech, Ms Mutahi said that despite agriculture contributing 24 per cent to the economy, it largely remains rain fed-which holds it back. Pointing to the fact that because a large portion of manufacturers depends on raw materials from agriculture, when agriculture grows manufacturing grows.

There was a tense moment earlier, when the trade secretary and his team were about to leave after the CS’s. The KAM chair called him to task, urging, “There is something you forgot to address sir, we really need a predictable business environment-No! No! No! She retorted. As the trade secretary appeared to talk back.

This comes at the back of the manufacturing industry’s persistent lobby urging the government to provide a predictable business environment. With policies such as tax to be implemented on long-term basis two to three years instead of the frequent changes that happen every time the national budget is read.

There was never a dull moment at the opening ceremony as Nairobi Deputy Governor Polycarp Igathe graced the opening ceremony with a fiery speech aimed at fighting for the youth’s employment. “Young people have been relegated to internships and working on contract basis. They don’t get jobs because positions are being held by ‘old’ unproductive employees; who report to work at 11am, take an hour’s lunch break and leave 3 O’clock,” he said.

“Manufacturers please give young people permanent and pensionable jobs, otherwise you are killing aggregate demand. The people that work for you should be able to afford your products,” he added.

The deputy governor also urged the Kenya Association of Manufacturers to drive and lobby for labor productiveness in the country. “The biggest challenge of manufacturers and this nation as a whole is low labor productivity. However, it is hard to fire people due to current policies. Let us make it reasonable to fire people who are not productive.”

The Manufacturers Expo 2017 raised many issues to the surface and I hope it will act as a catalyst for future partnerships and solutions. Such forums also give people new to business, a chance to freely interact with industry experts and stay ahead of trends.

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