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Kenya needs more innovators

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Chief Executive Officer, Nation Media Group 

By Linus Gitahi

Posted  Sunday, October 23   2011 at  19:05

In Summary

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Dear entrepreneurs. It is the fourth year since we launched this noble initiative to honour those who create wealth and jobs for our country.

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This year’s event has taken place in the middle of immense economic challenges that affect all of us either as businesses or individual consumers. Inflation is up and the shilling has plummeted to a level not seen before.

My own take is that this, in fact, is the right moment to bring together and recognise this group of innovative Kenyans with the potential to find long term solutions to the challenges we face.

So much has been said about the possible causes of the shilling’s troubles, but let me direct your thoughts to where the problem really lies — the balance of payment as measured in terms of our thirst for imports verses the amount of dollars we have to do so.

One factor that has not dawned on many of us is that the traditional sources of dollars such as exporting agricultural produce to Europe have become less vibrant partly because of economic difficulties of the Euro zone.

That can also be said of other key sources of dollars such as tourism and remittances from Kenyans abroad. Exports to our neighbours are also under pressure. In the 60s, Kenya became the obvious choice as manufacturing hub for the region.

Many consumer goods would be manufactured in Kenya and exported to the rest of East Africa. But with the advent of a free trade called Comesa and the fall of apartheid in South Africa, most of these multinationals have shifted their manufacturing bases for the region to either Egypt or SA.

Manufactured goods are then exported directly to Uganda, Tanzania and the greater Comesa region therefore denying Kenya this traditional source of dollars.

If we are not careful, it is going to get worse because Uganda has discovered oil and will soon be exporting it to us while Tanzania has large gas deposits and is toying with the idea of exporting the stuff to us.

What will Kenya export to these two countries to keep our balance of payments anywhere close to sensible?

These two countries do not need our tea, coffee or horticulture but they have stuff we badly need.

I am convinced that the answer lies right here in the TOP 100 Club.

This is the group that has the right skills and mindset to build great Kenyan companies that will grow beyond our national borders into the regional markets and earn us the dollars to keep our economy steady. It is this group that must create the millions of jobs that Kenya needs to keep a lid on high level of unemployment currently standing at more than 35 per cent.

Kenya must have its own multi-nationals that contribute enough revenue to deliver the Vision 2030 – the bottom-line being that entrepreneurship is Kenya’s only viable long-term answer to economic upheavals such as the recent depreciation of the shilling and slow growth in tax revenues.

Finally, I delighted by the realisation that four more companies Express Automation, Prime Fuels, Manji Foods and Vitafoam have left the Top 100 Club and graduated to the Club 101 having crossed the Sh1 billion ceiling beyond which they must now join the big league.

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