The 6th TICAD conference that was held in Nairobi last week was significant for many reasons one being that this was the first time the conference was held in Africa, and that Nairobi in particular was a choice destination is not a small feat. The conference was not just about the Kshs 3 Trillion promised by Japan for projects that will boost their trade with Africa; but more than that, it was about forging stronger ties with Japan (Japan’s industry) which is a crucial link for the growth and advancement of our own.
Japan has many lessons from which we can learn. For example, it is hard to believe that in the early 50s and 60s, Japanese products were talked about as imitations and less than stellar. Fast forward to the 80’s and the country’s reputation for high-tech, cutting edge inventions such as Nikon and Canon cameras soared above all other industries the world over.
Among other things, one occurrence that has been credited for this turnaround in Japan was the establishment of The Japanese Society for Quality Control (JSQC) in 1970, that was mandated to oversee the creation of quality products in the country. Japan has bequeathed to the world the principles of lean manufacturing such as, Just in Time (JIT), KAIZEN, 5S, KANBAN, just to mention a few. These principles are currently being effected by a number of manufacturing companies in Kenya to eliminate waste and promote efficiency in manufacturing. But without limiting them to industry if applied on a larger scale to all businesses then, we are bound to see a huge difference in our daily operations that in turn impacts on the macroeconomics to deliver sustainable economic development.
Aside from the technological knowledge transfer that makes Japan’s experience quite essential to our economic goals, the subtle yet stronger and more long lasting skill that the Japanese can impart can be found in the above mentioned philosophies. Take for example Kaizen, earlier this year Ethiopia was hailed as the center of excellence for Kaizen in Africa after it was able to save a whopping 1.67billion Birr over the past three years whilst providing improved quality products and services.
Increased productivity and quality are key components to improved trade and trade relations in Africa. And if we keep improving the standard requirements as we trade with each other, we continue to elevate our value in the global markets. Additionally, the quality upgrading mechanism can also be triggered through reverse engineering which in turn can lead us to innovation.
The axis of the global economy has been turning eastwards for a while now and it is time for us to explore additional trading partners and whilst keeping a strong focus on what we want to achieve as a country. Kenya has been the largest beneficiary in Africa of Japanese goodwill and can now take it further, to increase our competitiveness and use the skills transfer as catalyst to reach our goal of becoming an upper middle income country by 2030.
The writer is the CEO of the Kenya Association of Manufacturers and can be reached on firstname.lastname@example.org