Businessman Chris Kirubi and other industrialists have for years pushed the Buy Kenya, Build Kenya business cart. Often, their calls are met with cynicism from a majority of the middle class addicted to imported stuff.
Working in a free market, conditioned by various regional and global treaties that allow in unlimited imports, Kenyans have been exposed to many products from foreign markets. There is a perception among many Kenyans that local products are of poor quality. That is only true to a small extent.
If for instance, you put foreign and local cosmetic products on supermarket shelves, many Kenyans are likely to buy the foreign ones. It is a mindset created over the years by a few manufactures who compromise quality to make huge profits or remain competitive.
But competition has forced improvement in quality and companies that compromise quality face low demand for their products. With prices for local and imported products almost level, it beats logic for us to hold on to foreign goods when there are equal or even better alternatives in the local market.
Buying foreign products has huge implications. In as much as they make us feel classy, they stunt growth of our industries. Because of their growth, we end up exporting jobs to the foreign companies we buy from.
The current election campaigns are a great example. It is estimated that over Sh100 billion will be spent on campaigns. A good chunk of the campaign money, unfortunately, is going to foreign economies, especially China and Dubai.
Most printing works – posters, t-shirts, caps and other branding materials – are being done in these two countries. A big printer in Nairobi’s Industrial Area recently told me they are only getting ‘small jobs’ from those aspiring to be members of county assemblies. Yet Kenya has high-quality printers and suppliers.
We need a shift in mentality to help build our industries. But again, local companies should improve their quality, pricing and work ethics. I agree with Kirubi and company that if we buy Kenya, we will indeed build Kenya. The writer is the managing editor of Business Today (www.businesstoday.co.ke). Email: [email protected]