There was a time we tried to manufacture a Kenyan car. Older readers will remember the infamous Nyayo Car project.
Former President Daniel arap Moi put together a team of engineers and academics from the University of Nairobi, Kenya Railways Corporation and the Department of Defence and challenged them to produce a car.
Five years later, the Nyayo Pioneer car was ready. But one afternoon, during the official launch of the car at the Kasarani Sports Complex in 1991, the car broke down. It could not even complete a journey around the athletic track.
And, why did it fail? The engineers did not get the proper casting for the engine. The body was too heavy. The transmission system kept breaking because the engineers did not get the right metallurgy for gears.
On coming to terms that the Nyayo car was a pipe dream, the government decided to incorporate a new parastatal to handle the second face of the project.
National Machining Complex Ltd was created to study what had gone wrong and put together facilities and equipment that would make it possible for Kenya to achieve its dream of manufacturing own car.
And, so the National Machining Complex Ltd was given money to buy the right machines and equipment.
First, it purchased a modern and computer-aided complex capable of making machine tools, machining gears and parts whose manufacturing require precision engineering.
Secondly, the company bought a gigantic sand-cooled foundry that was imported from Denmark.
Thirdly, the company was allocated one thousand acres of land in Athi River to build a new manufacturing plant.
The plan was as follows: the foundry would cast the components from scrap metal which the machining complex would use in making motor vehicle parts.
The second experiment did not work. In the first place, the foundry was not installed for many years. The equipment stayed in containers for two years.
Secondly, because the computerised machining complex was purchased and installed before the foundry, the complex remained idle for years.
Somewhere along the line, the idea of manufacturing a Kenyan car was abandoned. The upshot was that for many years, the Numerical Machining Complex was made to operate more or less like a private workshop doing small jobs, very much like what is known in Kenyan parlance as “Kalasinga shops.”
Even after the foundry was installed, the main product it could produce were break shoes for the railway wagons and locomotives. Last year, the government came up with the idea of developing a local mini steel mill.
The idea was that Numerical Machining Complex would incubate this new project. The parastatal was given hundreds of millions of shillings to upgrade equipment.
Early this year, the management of the company went into a buying spree, buying complex and expensive machines following procurement procedures which had been opposed by its in-house professionals.
At the same time, the Privatisation Commission has put out tenders seeking advisers to steer its privatisation.
Why are we buying expensive equipment now, when the intention is to sell the damn thing to third parties? Something doesn’t add up.