Entrepreneurship and creativity should be rewarded in Kenya
By Prof. Maurice Nyamanga Amutabi
Kenya is missing out on its creative geniuses, and sometimes we are so fast in dismissing them instead of encouraging them. We end up losing them to other parts of the world. The world may not know that money transfer by phone started in Kenya, and was first used effectively by Safaricom through M-pesa. Today, this Kenyan creativity is becoming global and yet no one has been rewarded or recognized for it. If Daniel Ogutu, the founder of the idea was in Europe or America, he would have been shortlisted for the Nobel Prize in economics or entrepreneurship.
Bicycle taxis also started on the Kenya-Uganda border at a time when not many people across the world imagined that bicycles could be used as taxis. The creativity of Kenyans has never stopped to amaze me. It is only in Kenya where you will find someone in the office working while her hair stylist is working on her. It is only in Kenya where I have seen someone going around offices collecting shoes to go and repair or polish them, as their owners continue with work. These are inventive business strategies that would make the world wonder, is this real? I recently came across three remarkable entrepreneurial geniuses recently in Kenya.
The first creative item is a solar lump which also comes with sockets for charging phones. The inventor of the solar lump is a student at a Kenyan public university. The lumps are so popular in many rural homes where they have suffered many hours of darkness due to lack of money for kerosene. These lumps have been Godsend. Unfortunately, the inventor of these lumps and chargers has not been recognized or even supported to produce these lumps on large scale. He has not even been honoured as a hero. If he was in another country, he would be feted and celebrated.
The second one is a young man I encountered at a market in Western Kenya where he was exchanging motorcycles with cattle. One grade cow exchanged for one motorcycle. He had several motorcycles on one lorry and was loading cattle on another. Once the famer gave him a cow, which was accompanied by letters from a veterinary office and the local chief, he was allowed to select one motorcycle. He sells the grade cows to Uganda at about kshs.50, 000 per head.
The third creativity was on Uhuru Highway in Nairobi where there was a young man on a motor cycle selling five liter jerry to motorists at 1,000 instead of the usual 500. What amazed me was the professional manner in he approached stranded motorists who had run out of petrol in the Nairobi traffic jams. They paid him the 1000 he was asking without questions. He proceeded to assist them in fueling and even had bottled water for them, as a gift. We hope traffic jams become a thing of the past on our roads, but it is good that someone has decided to assist stranded motorists instead of robbing them as would be the case in some cities.
Two years ago, I was amused when a young man who had succeeded in putting together an aircraft was threatened with arrest by an OCPD who demanded that he had to get a permit in order to fly his plane. The challenge was that in order to get a permit to fly, he had to be a certified pilot, from a recognized school of aviation. Now, just imagine if the Wright brothers had been born in Kenya, and forced to deal with some local ‘OCPD’ in their American backyard where they did over 1000 trials on their aircraft contraptions.
The contraptions of the Wright brothers available at the Smithsonian museum in Washington DC are nowhere near the beautiful craft that the young Kenyan genius had developed from scrap metal. True, getting such a contraption into the air is dangerous and security risk today, but the young talent should be guided and given support on how to go about it than being threatened with arrest by police. We should support and celebrate our heroes, inventors and discoverers and not condemn them or threaten them with arrest.
Prof. Amutabi works in Research at the Catholic University of Eastern Africa.