Q&A on Jua Kali Sector With CEO of Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations

April 25, 2022

Richard Muteti, the CEO of Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations, responded to questions from the public via Sunday Nation.

There has been a steady rise in global oil prices, which will certainly push up the cost of electricity that will eventually drive many jua kali artisans out of the market.  Can the federation cushion the artisans by providing them with incentives to enable them to get alternative forms of energy like solar? Ongeri Abuga Dominic, Nairobi

One of the mandates of the Kenya National Federation of Jua Kali Associations is to advocate for a conducive business policy environment for its members and the sector at large. The federation is engaging relevant agencies, especially in the energy sector, to promote innovation, development and utilisation of renewable, sustainable and alternative sources of energy for households as well as for industrial use. Thousands of jua kali artisans manufacture energy jikos and windmills for their use.

The Kenya National Qualification Authority (KNQA) hinted in the past that it would recognise skills possessed by  jua kali artisans to enable them advance their education.  Are you sensitising your members to benefit from this ? Komen Moris, Eldoret

We have been pushing and advocating for a formal system of recognition of jua kali sector skills for some time now. We have millions of uniquely skilled jua kali artisans, many of whom have acquired knowledge and skills through informal and non-formal ways. Most of these skilled artisans offer high quality work but lack the necessary formal papers, thus making them earn less than they deserve.

In most cases, they fall victim to middlemen who have papers but lack skills and who get major contracts, thereafter, earning the lion’s share while paying the actual artisans peanuts for their work. Millions of self-taught learners and practitioners in the informal jua kali sector have had their investments of time and hard work go without any recognition and their contribution to the national skills development ecosystem not documented and accounted for.

A policy and legal framework for Recognition of Prior Learning (RPL) is long overdue. The jua kali sector stands to be the biggest beneficiary of a robust and comprehensive RPL system as their occupational practice will have a policy framework to guide and promote fairness and equity in the commercialisation of their skills and hard-earned competencies.

The policy would address unfairness in tendering for contracts, which often locks out jua kali artisans and craftsmen due to lack of papers. It will promote occupational standardisation and facilitate career progression for artisans and crafts persons. RPL will also enhance economic opportunities for certified artisans who choose to participate in government tendering.

The promotion of the jua kali sector especially in the 1980s was primarily to boost the country as it made steps into manufacturing. However, this dream seems to have faded as imports from countries such as China rise. How can this be corrected?  Komen Moris, Eldoret

We are operating in a global and liberalised economy and it is true imports from countries like China are a threat not just to the jua kali sector but to the entire Kenya’s economy. We have to work on the productivity and competitiveness of our key sectors of the economy, especially manufacturing. While the current administration has made attempts to improve on the ease of doing business in Kenya, these interventions have largely focused on the formal sector.

We are hoping the next administration will develop targeted policy and programme interventions to support the jua kali sector to promote it in a structured way, to effectively participate in local manufacturing and bring about import substitution. It requires a long-term but clearly sector-focused approach. In this regard, we are strongly advocating for a fully-fledged Ministry of Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises, just like in India and South Korea.

How is the federation working to ensure the jua kali sector produces globally recognised products? Kelvin Mugendi

The sector is the home of custom-made innovations, sometimes very rudimentary but working. Millions of artisans are also involved in skills development and transfer through traditional apprenticeship. As a federation, we have established structured partnerships and collaborations with relevant government ministries, departments and agencies, whose mandates are relevant to supporting the sectors on these aspects.

For example, on industrial research and product development, we have a working relationship with Kenya National Industrial Research and Development, on manufacturing standards we work with Kenya Bureau of Standards and on protection of our members’ intellectual property rights we have an MoU with Kenya Industrial Property Institute. In fact, we have a joint programme with these agencies dubbed 4K Vision 2030 MSME Initiative aimed at  productivity, quality and competitiveness of MSME products through provision of technology, design, product development, standardisation and protection of innovations.

To what extent has the buy Kenya, build Kenya mantra helped your members? Jared Abwao, Zimmerman

Under the affordable housing pillar of the Big 4 Agenda, our members in the welding and metal fabrication clusters have participated in the pilot site at Pangani to fabricate and supply doors, windows and other building services. Our members in the woodwork subsector have also been contracted to manufacture and supply school desks to secondary schools, especially during the Covid-19 pandemic period, under the first Economic Stimulus Programme implemented by the Ministry of Education. Government should mandate that for all government international contracts, contractors should have subcontracting exchange partnerships with the local industry.

The recent ban on the scrap metal business was a huge blow to your members. However, the  federation has not come out openly to condemn the vandalism of critical government infrastructure in the transport, energy, communication and manufacturing sectors. Why, yet Kenyans have continued to suffer due to the disruption of essential services like power? Dan Murugu, Nakuru City

The vandalism of critical government infrastructure witnessed recently was not done by our members. This was an act of criminality which we condemned. We are happy with the steps the government is taking to reform and strengthen enforcement in the scrap metal sub-sector.

Through structured and organised associations that are our members, we are already engaging with the government to address the gaps in self-regulation of the sector. We are advocating for co-regulation structures where the sector and the government undertakes surveillance activities to avoid instances like the ones witness recently.

How do you purpose to promote collaborations and partnerships with local universities, manufacturers, government agencies, donors and the private sector? Dan Murugu, Nakuru City

True, we have our mantra that jua kali sector is the “home of innovations and creativity”. We are part and parcel of the innovations ecosystems and are participating in showcasing some of them. We run and manage regular national and regional exhibitions and trade fairs. Several universities, technical and vocational institutions as well as international organisations have shown interest in partnering with the federation to address various issues that would make our artisans productive and competitive.

In what ways are you engaging with the government to manage the costs of scrap metal, the raw material for many of your members? Patrick Mwangi, Naivasha

There are many factors that drive the cost of doing business up. The cost of raw materials is key because they are a critical input. Others are the cost of energy. The best way to address the scrap metal sub sector is to review and/or develop a comprehensive policy and regulatory framework that is facilitative/conducive and has incentives to the sector. We must reduce high taxes/levies and avoid red tape brought about by over regulation or knee-jack regulatory reactions.

There is a serious crisis and strain on the sector due to the current banning of scrap metal dealings that has led to huge loss of jobs. For example, we are approaching a peak season for our metal fabricators with the coming opening of schools where many students report with metal boxes manufactured by our jua kali artisans. We appeal to the government to relax the current restrictions to safeguard thousands of jobs that might be lost.

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