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Sunday, January 1, 2017

Kenya: Business Ideas Sparked By a Visit to a Cape Town Vineyard -

Kenya: Business Ideas Sparked By a Visit to a Cape Town Vineyard

My proposal last week to brand Kenyan athletics yielded many responses. Before proceeding to make another proposal for this week, I want to share just two of the comments elicited by last week's column.

The first one is from Gerald Lwande. Writing from Eldoret, he had this to say:

"Good afternoon Prof. Ndemo. I am impressed with your article on today's (26th Dec, 2016) with emphasis on the concept of an Athletics Hall of fame in Eldoret. I would like to bring to your attention Precise Genomics R&D Laboratories that has partnered with Strathmore University and University of Brighton - UK to set up a centre of excellence in Sports Medicine and Research in Eldoret town (Nandi road opposite Nandi close). The facility currently hosts high [calibre] endurance (Marathon) athletes such as Wilson Kipsang and Geoffrey Kamworor for training and rehabilitation. As a facility, we had not considered setting up a hall of fame, but - why not? Next time you visit Eldoret, please pay us a courtesy call and we could partner with one of your venture capitalists friends to set up this new idea of a hall of fame."

I must confess that I did not know that a facility like this one exists in Kenya, but it strengthens my position that we don't always have to look to government to start projects. There is a major role for the private sTwitter: @bantigitoector and research institutions to take the leadership through collaborations in exploiting opportunities that exist in the country. If we fail, someone else will take care and leave us complaining.

My colleague at the University of Nairobi and fellow columnist Dr X.N. Iraki posed these questions: "Could we possibly open our eyes in the coming year to deal with our own poor judgement, greed and self-centeredness, which have impoverished the people of Africa? Are Africans poorer in judgement, greedier, more self-[centred] than other races?"


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I don't know the answers to these questions but in many forums people have asked similar questions. And as always we fear dealing with such questions, often choosing to move with the crowd even as we witness the suffering of people due to poor judgement by our leaders in virtually every sphere.

However, let us not just blame politicians. For example, our universities, public and private, are failing across the country, yet they are managed by the best brains the country can offer. A recent report by the Commission for University Education (CUE) revealed glaring maladministration at several institutions but the matter was politicised and tribalism unleashed to protect the status quo.

We need much more than rhetoric to deal with the rampant poverty of decision-making.

Let me reveal this week's proposition. It is an idea I came across while visiting Cape Town with some friends.

Although I am a teetotaller, I escorted my friends to a wine-tasting outing at one of the many Cape Town vineyards. Later we moved on to a nearby a brandy-tasking estate.

I took lots of notes. I began to reflect on why in Kenya we don't do the same with tea farms in Limuru or Kericho; coffee farms in Kiambu or Nyeri; and even sugarcane in Awendo or Mumias.


More than 50 years since independence, we have not challenged or disrupted any processing and distribution mechanisms that were left behind by the colonists.

Over time, returns from virtually all cash crops in the country have fallen, leaving the farmers poor and frustrated. Too many agencies were created in the middle, further squeezing the farmers into poverty. The Coffee Board, the Tea Board, the Cotton Lint and Marketing Board as well as the Sugar Board failed in their mandate to brand and market the Kenyan produce.

Some of these boards were infiltrated by cartels that virtually killed the industries. We also sacrificed these agencies on the altar of ethnic balancing. As a result, they are all in a mess.

Take the coffee industry, for example. Recent media reports revealed how a whole sector was brought to its knees by price-fixing cartels. The tea industry is no better; it is beginning to falter and incomes are declining.

The sugar industry was politically introduced by Kanu in Nyanza and western Kenya to give farmers some form of cash crop like those in tea and coffee-growing areas. It didn't matter that feasibility studies showed that it was not feasible in the absence of large plantations. Even a casual observer will tell anyone that Kenya will never be competitive in sugar for as long as it is dependent on small-scale farmers.