I’m sure you’ve all heard about the noble cause of the Kenyan government to make Kenya an offshore outsourcing destination. Companies like Kencall are, currently, the face of these noble and valuable efforts. I have been thinking about Kenya as an outsourcing hub and I still wonder, can we really make it a reality? Yes, companies like Kencall do very well but will Kenya ever be as big as countries like India when it comes to offshore outsourcing? I think not.
Last week, I was talking to some people who are interested in starting an egg (mayai) business. They want to sell eggs on a large scale. Do you know it is cheaper to import eggs from Egypt than it is to produce them locally? And that’s just one product – pick any industry in this country and you will quickly realise that producing goods locally if often several times more expensive than it is to just import them. What does this mean for us, as a country wishing to grow our producing and manufacturing industries?
You would think that imported products are cheaper, but those that are locally manufactured are of a better quality, yes? Well, this may be true in some cases but more often than not, it is not. A trip to Nairobi’s industrial area would leave you shocked at just how much of what we consume locally is outsourced – from packaging material to the whole manufacturing process. The people who outsource would like to use Kenyan alternatives but it does not make business sense to do so. Why pay more for something of a lesser quality?
What about services? We’re good at that, at least, eh? Well, not really. Undoubtedly, we have a very educated and extremely skilled workforce. But, it is still cheaper to get things done in India, or elsewhere. Case in point: Kenyan ‘technology’ firms (software producers, web design, web development, etc etc) often require to hire additional programmers, designers, etc to handle small tasks. The local labour force is very well equipped to handle these tasks. However, the local labour force is also nearly five times more expensive than offshore (often Indian) options. Who would you choose to go with?
Now, this post is not meant to bash Kenya and Kenyans. I’m a Kenyan too. 🙂
I’m just simply wondering: how can we compete with India as an outsourcing destination when we ourselves outsource to India? As a people and as a nation we have to ask ourselves: what are we doing wrong? Why is it cheaper to import sofa sets from China (and taking shipping costs into account) than it is to make the sofa set locally? Why is Kenyan stuff so expensive? Can we ever compete with economies like India or China? I do not know the answers to these questions. Do you?
What I do know is that the following are some of the things we need to address:
- The infrastructure in Kenya is good, but hardly good enough. We still have frequent power losses and water shortages, not to mention many other things
- The cost of doing business in Kenya has to be brought down
- Our mentality as a people needs to change. The average Kenyan businessman is greedy – he would much rather do one job for a profit of 50,000/- than 10 jobs for a profit of 25,000 each
What do you think?