The recent directive by President Uhuru Kenyatta that military and police uniforms be stitched and procured from the National Youth Service (NYS) has been hailed by those who support promotion of local industries as a good step. Granted, not all components of the directive will benefit from this since we are still net importers of fabric and a few other clothing accessories.
As part of the move to promote the Buy Kenya Build Kenya initiative, perhaps a similar order is required to boost certain segments of our fledgling health industry. Protectionism at its core has the idea of nurturing infant industries to develop to a level where they can compete with international firms which often have advantages in their home countries enabling them to export cheaply.
Such a policy has its own dissuaders some who argue that it denies the opportunity for non-competitive industries to evolve in Darwinian fashion.
The positive side though is that this move if broadly and well applied, could spur creativity and offer an avenue for firms on the verge of taking-off to make the leap towards regional and international competence.
In healthcare, two of these sectors include locally owned pharma and SMEs fabricating hospital equipment and furniture. In many public hospitals, a look at the list of procured items easily reveals a net imports sourcing. Quite disappointing because some of these do not necessarily require to be from outside Kenya.
A drive down Gikomba, Ngong Road, Kibera and Langata Road shows many youth handcrafting exquisite items. Their disadvantage is their inability to generate products in large scale.
As we strive towards Vision 2030, jua kali artisans are a critical ingredient for the success of this ambitious goal. Government entities such as the Kenya Industrial Estates, Youth Fund and the youth procurement quotas must work in harmony to not only identify meritorious entities but also nurture, equip and fund them too.
The first step is achieving capacity to reproduce identical items in large volumes. Machine tooling would help such firms and for this “patient” financing is needed.
Shoe giant Bata’s recent contest where design students were selected after a competition and incubated with the culmination of designing their own shoe line within the firm is one example where creativity and competency can be supported for the good of both sides.
The pharmaceutical sector is perhaps ahead in terms of development level. What they need are consistent government sanctioned supply quota to ensure they grow and help develop skills to move to the next level.
Government funded health enterprises should have quotas for local enterprises.
Examination couches, trolleys, patient beds, and supply of basic medicines as per our Essentials Drugs list should come from local firms.
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