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State must ensure technology transfer

Sunday September 5 2010

Architectural impressions of the Thika superhighway which is under construction indicate one of the greatest civil works in the country since the building of the Great North Road and the Kenya-Uganda rail line more than 100 years ago.

To modernise the country and accelerate economic growth towards the realisation of Vision 2030, many other major infrastructure works are in the offing, including a modern railway system.

When the plan to turn Nairobi into a modern metropolis takes off, residents are promised some of the most spectacular projects ever seen in this region, including an underground railway system.

If the Thika road project is any indicator, then it is possible to draw some parallels with the building of the Kenya-Uganda railway.

Then, and understandably so, the line was laid with imported technology, skilled and even unskilled labour. Many years later, nothing seems to have changed much despite the country boasting of a highly-educated workforce.

The government has spent huge amounts of money sending politicians and bureaucrats abroad to study how technology works, including irrigation in Israel and potato farming in Vietnam.

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Now that these huge technological projects are going on right here, one would expect a deliberate and structured effort to understudy their execution.

Last year, the Jomo Kenyatta University of Science and Technology requested that they be included in the construction of Thika Road as a learning exercise, but this did not happen.

Some of these projects have a clause underlining technology transfer to locals as a pre-condition in their documentation.

However, this is never taken seriously, which is why we shall remain consumers of technology and exporters of high-quality jobs.

This time round, the government must make sure that there is meaningful technology transfer.

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