EDITORIAL: Local bus assemblers must be given priority


Isuzu East Africa vehicle assembly plant staff at work on Mombasa Road, Nairobi on Dec 6, 2018. PHOTO | DIANA NGILA | NMG

President Uhuru Kenyatta last year announced the ‘Big Four’ legacy sectors that included manufacturing. The sector, with a high potential of carrying along the whole economy, has over the past few years been underperforming partly due infrastructural and macroeconomic constraints.

Some of the issues undermining manufacturing like power costs are being addressed. The truth, however,. is that these will take time to resolve, which makes it wise for the industry and the government to address short-term issues to reap low hanging fruits. One of the easily achievable ones is the old Buy Kenya Build Kenya policy. The local assembly of high capacity buses to ease Nairobi’s traffic congestion is one such example. The project is meant to decongest the city by substituting small carriers with the Bus Rapid Transport (BRT) system. The ministry of Transport has, to the disappointment of local assemblers, said that it is still planning on importing the buses from South Africa, citing lack of local capacity as per Kenya Bureau of Standards (Kebs) stipulation.

Local bus makers including, and notably not limited to, Isuzu East Africa have previously dismissed the assertion saying they have capacity to deliver the units. Isuzu has recently made heavy investment in assembly lines.

The ministry earlier indicated that it had ditched the bid to import the 64 buses. That is obviously not the case as per its latest announcement. Given the impact on foreign currency, exporting of local jobs and denying locals labour and technical capacity building, we demand a detailed explanation and total transparency on this flip-flop from the government. The public needs the answers to know who was awarded the contract for the buses and who was the competitor, at what price and when? What is the cost of importing the buses from South Africa and how does that compare with building them locally? Given Kebs’ scandalous nature, can we trust their opinion or do we need an investigation on the purported inability by local assemblers to meet quality standards?

Unless there is proof, we are more inclined to believe that assembling the buses is no rocket science and the local industry has the capacity as it claims. That is why the whole procurement process and its motives need to be laid bare. Otherwise, the industrialisation ambitions could remain a pipe dream.