Nyayo car project set for revival as new ventures now take off

Monday April 3 2006

PHILIP NGUNJIRI writes that currently, the firm gets revenue only from orders for machine spare parts from major tea and sugar factories

The board of directors of Numerical Machining Complex (NMC), better known as the Nyayo Pioneer car project, has endorsed two new projects in an effort to revive the moribund organisation.

The first project is a workshop garage, which opened its doors to the general public about two weeks ago.

"We've started servicing and repairing motor vehicles for clients, although at a low capacity. We expect to quicken the pace in two months' time, when we also expect to upgrade into body-building for pick-ups, trucks and buses," said NMC general manager George Magore.

The organisation has also been appointed the local agents for Autodesk, an American computer software company whose main product, the AutoCAD, is the world's leading customisable and extendable CAD software for 2D (dimension) drafting, detailing, design documentation and basic 3D design.

"We signed an agreement in November last year that enables us to become one of the registered local agents for Autodesk products. This involves sale and training on use of the company's latest products, especially AutoCAD 2006 and Inventor Release 10," said Mr Magore.

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"We'll be spending a minimal cost to run the projects since we have the necessary machinery and facilities," Mr Magore told TheEastAfrican.

The government has been keen to revive the organisation. Trade and Industry Minister Dr Mukhisa Kituyi has stripped Kenya Railways and the University of Nairobi of the ownership of the complex. His ministry is now preparing a Cabinet memorandum that if approved would transform NMC into an autonomous body. This would lead to an Act of Parliament, which would enable NMC to receive money through the national budget.

Dr Kituyi recently said the project, which closed down its car-production line after producing only two cars in the 1980s, had huge potential to churn out industrial machines, equipment and tools.

It was reported that the pioneer car stalled even on the day it was launched at Nyayo National Stadium. Sceptics doubted the ability of the country to undertake such huge car-manufacturing investments.

At the initial stages of the project, the government injected Ksh750 million ($10.4 million) into the operations. Engineers had requested Ksh7.8 billion ($108 million) to purchase equipment to make prototypes of the Nyayo car. They made the Nyayo car with 60 per cent of its spare parts being sourced or manufactured locally. The two "complete" cars – a saloon and a pick-up truck – lie at a corner of the complex, covered with dust. Three other cars – at different unfinished stages – languish on the "production" line.

The team that was responsible for the project had been drawn from Kenya Railways, the Department of Defence, the National Council of Science and Technology, the University of Nairobi and the Kenya Polytechnic.

The project then went through a period of secrecy as information on it was considered classified, although money was often voted in the budget for its activities.

The gigantic machines and equipment used in the manufacture of the cars has been lying idle at the Railways grounds. In reviving the project, the government will have to buy new equipment.

"We only need Ksh250 million ($3.5 million) to revive the complex fully. The money would finance our modernisation plan and would enable us to carry out commercial operations," said Mr Magore.

Former Minister of Planning, Prof Anyang’ Nyong’o, once said with failure of the Nyayo car project, Kenya lost an opportunity to become a car exporter. He added that by now, the country would be like Malaysia, which supported local car-manufacturing initiatives and is now exporting its own brands.

"Had we created a policy environment that nurtured such nascent technological ideas, we would be at par with Malaysia," Nyongo was quoted saying.

He said the country needed to re-examine projects such as the NMC to pave way for a technological revolution in the manufacturing sector.

Currently, the firm gets revenue only from orders for machine spare parts from major tea and sugar factories. The complex is producing spare parts at 5 to 10 per cent capacity. Its products include, brake blocks, worm wheels and gears. The complex also operates a foundry plant for both ferrous and non ferrous metals.

Kenya's horticultural industry, which has been in the past accused of human rights abuses and environmental pollution by lobbyists, now says it is ready to incorporate corporate social responsibility (CSR) programmes in its codes of practice.

"It has come to our realisation that we must get involved in improving the lives of the communities and neighbours around whom we operate, like other successful businesses," Erastus Mureithi, chairman of the Kenya Flower Council, told The EastAfrican.

The development, Mr Mureithi added, is a reflection of changes in global ethical trade practices and for horticulture it is a new trend all over the world.

"CSR is increasingly becoming a requirement in global ethical trade practices and is important for Kenya, whose horticultural industry has often found itself on the wrong side with human rights and environmental activists for allegedly raking in huge profits at the expense of its workers and the environment," he said, adding, "from henceforth investors will be expected to get more actively involved with community support and environmental conservation programmes."

In embracing CSR, the horticul-tural industry has joined the global campaign for businesses to pass on some of their profits to improve the livelihoods of the communities around them and for the fresh produce sector, it is critical for correcting and improving the negative image it has been associated with for years.

Last week, the KFC donated more than 5,000 stems of roses to the Cerebral Palsy of Kenya as a goodwill gesture to share the Valentine's Day love messagewith those afflicted by various ailments. Recently, council members contributed Ksh1 million ($12,500) to the Kenya Red Cross Society for the ongoing famine relief efforts. Additionally, some Ksh2 million ($25,000) of proceeds from an horticultural fair held last September in Naivasha, the hub of the flower industry in Kenya, was distributed to support charity events in the town as well as for the Save a Life Fund.

Some of the flower farms, such as Oserian Development Company, Finlay Flowers, Suera Roses, Sian Roses, Homegrown and Sher Agencies, have established CSR programmes and staff welfare activities including sports, education and environmental conservation.

Oserian, for instance, is credited with supporting the former national soccer league champions Oserian Football Club that has since changed its name to Nakuru FC after the flower giant stopped sponsoring it.

In Kiambu district, Redhill Flowers has donated a piece of land worth Ksh300,000 ($3,750) and plans to fund the construction of a police station in Ndenderu, while it has been paying fees for two orphaned children who are now in secondary school.

All horticultural export firms are expected to put up nurseries, primary schools, special feeding centres for nursing mothers and healthcare facilities for both staff and surrounding communities.

The changes reflect a new approach to running the sector as a responsible business, Mr Mureithi says, adding that future farm audits will include implementation of the CSR programmes. "Farms that fail to demonstrate sufficient social responsibility activities will not be certified," he said.

To get the entire industry to embrace responsible practices, KFC wants the government to give it the mandate to enforce the National Code of Practice as a condition for export licensing. "This is the best means of ensuring that all players abide by the requirements and weed out unscrupulous traders," Mr Mureithi said.

Mr Mureithi added that in future, all investors in the industry will be required to give higher worker welfare standards in terms of wages, protective equipment, safe transportation and gender equity committees on the farms.

Wages and benefits paid to flower farm workers are pegged to prevailing agricultural and plantation recommended agreements. The revised code wants the government recommended wages revised to give sufficient incomes to meet workers' and their families' basic needs and leave some discretionary income, Mr Mureithi said.

Horticultural farms have also been accused of preventing their workers from joining trade unions and refusing to sign collective bargaining agreements, but this will a thing of the past, according to the KFC boss.

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