Way back in 1986, the then President of Kenya, Daniel Moi challenged engineering lecturers at the University of Nairobi to put their vast knowledge into practice by coming up with a locally manufactured car. By joining hands with technical teams from other government institutions, the engineers developed five prototypes of a local car. It was named the Nyayo Pioneer Car. The goal was to manufacture this car in mass locally through a state corporation – Nyayo Motor Corporation. Unfortunately, faced by massive shortage of funds, the ambitious project collapsed in the I990s.
Although sixty percent of the materials used to manufacture the car were sourced from abroad, from an economic point of view, this project was noble. Most of the cars on our roads today are second hand imports- mainly from Japan. Only a few are locally assembled and even when that is the case, their kits are all imported. By importing cars, the country spends colossal amounts of money which is a big loss to our economy. In the process, we fail to create jobs for our highly skilled youth graduating in thousands every year from our local universities and tertiary institutions.
Manufacturing is among the four pillars of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four Agenda. The others are: food security, affordable housing and affordable healthcare. It is foolhardy to imagine that Kenya can have a self sustaining economy if we cannot manufacture various goods locally and we have to keep on importing them day in, day out without seeking viable solutions. India and China are good examples of countries that opted to manufacture their own vehicles as opposed to importing them from the Western countries and Japan. This has greatly boosted their respective economies.
Whereas reviving the Nyayo Pioneer Car project maybe a herculean task, as a country, we need to seriously address the pitfalls of over relying on imported vehicles, instead of taking baby steps towards establishing our own local industries. This does not only apply to motor vehicles. Our country is flooded with cheap imports (for instance foodstuff, clothes and electronics), a trend that has led to the collapse or poor performance of our local manufacturers. In that regard, the government should develop and enforce policies that are friendly to the local manufacturers; otherwise we shall not stop visiting the powerful economies with big bowls to beg for foreign aid.