Like any country, Kenya’s prospects for developing its resources to maximum potential depend on the quality of its Human Capital. In broad terms, the Human Capital is categorized along the wider segments that reflect the nature of contributions needed from each category across the entire population. The contributions are representative of specific responses required to address societal needs that can be largely summarized as knowledge, health, wealth creation, and security.
In order to deliver on the contributions, the appropriate human capital talents, and expertise must be developed through implementation of structured learning processes that result in the possession of solution-driven knowledge and skill sets. For the contributors to perform their designated roles most effectively, these “developed’ groups of individuals or practitioners must not only demonstrate the evidence of possessing the highest standards of ‘technical’ knowledge and skills, but they must also be able to perform their allotted tasks with maximum competence. Furthermore, the tasks must be accomplished within the established sets of behaviour, i.e. in adherence to a code of conduct. Proof of continuous enhancement in competence, especially with reference to advancement of technology is also essential. The effective deployment of the combined components of the human capital contributions ensures the guarantee of the desired knowledge, health, wealth creation, and security.
We now carry this analysis a little further by reference specifically to the Engineering Profession’s contribution in the present Kenyan context. However, before proceeding further, it is useful to define the term engineering. A definition of engineering: The application of scientific, economic, social, and practical knowledge in order to invent, design, build, maintain, and improve structures, machines, devices, systems, materials and processes. Another one: The creative application of scientific principles to design or develop structures, machines, apparatus, or manufacturing processes, or works utilizing them singly or in combination; or to construct or operate the same with full cognizance of their design; or to forecast their behaviour under specific operating conditions; all as respects an intended function, economics of operation or safety to life and property. A person who practices engineering is called an engineer, and those licensed to do so will have more formal designations such as Professional Engineer, Designated Engineering Representative, Chartered Engineer, Incorporated Engineer, Ingenieur or European Engineer.
Therefore the engineer must have acquired the requisite scientific knowledge, be adept at the application of that knowledge to design, produce (and maintain) the system of products and services needed for continued survival of human beings in safety and possibly comfort.
It is perhaps useful to ask the apparently naïve question as to whether Kenya needs Professional Engineering in order to be able to develop its resource base (human and others) to their full potential. The converse query would be the proposition that can the country develop without the contribution or significant input from the Engineering Profession or a definitive expertise base? The obvious answer to the first question is that Kenya, like any country or society that aspires to promote its prospects of achieving higher levels of development needs a sound base of engineering capability.
An interesting but related question is whether a country has ever developed without a sound engineering base, and if so how? The evidenced observation is that none has. The ‘older’ countries and more successful developed countries are the ones that possess and continuously enhance high levels of engineering capabilities. The anecdotal (at least) evidence is that a country’s rate and scope of development are directly and irretrievably intertwined with possession of sound and robust engineering capabilities. Further, development of engineering is placed at the core of their education system. Thus, the sound engineering capabilities have placed and maintained the USA, Japan, Germany, United Kingdom and others at the forefront of economic and social development. A robust engineering base underpins each China, India, South Africa and Brazil and other rapidly developing economies. This brief observation appears to indicate no country is going to develop its resource base properly without achieving an appropriate engineering capability.
There is of course the case of Middle East and Gulf countries with immense natural hydrocarbon resources and which are developing their physical facilities at fast rates, apparently without indigenous engineering capacities. However, the risk associated with lack of local engineering capabilities was demonstrated by the severe difficulties experienced by these countries during the recent global credit crisis. Many of their so-called high profile petrodollar-fuelled development projects were brought to a sudden screeching stop.
Back to our situation, Kenya has achieved a lot in terms of economic development in both pre and post-independence eras. Obviously, we always wanted to develop more quickly and intended that this development cover the broader areas and greater parts of the population. Nevertheless, this has not happened for a variety of reasons. We submit that our state of under-development can be mainly attributed to insufficient development in Kenya’s Engineering Capability.
Worse, Kenya is crying out for a unified Engineering Profession that can present a single engineering voice that is capable of articulating the often-complex technical issues in a way that can sufficiently inform the public at large and influence policy formulation at both central and devolved government levels. The country is crying out for a professionally authoritative organisation that can be relied on to provide sound advice on a range of technology centred public investment projects such as the Standard Gauge Railway and Jomo Kenyatta International Airport expansion, to mention just two of many.
Our situation is thus in direct contrast for example, to many countries such as the United Kingdom. There the Government often consult the relevant engineering professional bodies when dealing especially with high profile investment-intensive projects. The engineering input is the key part of what must be a much wider public consultation process. This kind of consultative mechanism guarantees that the resulting decision is informed by the complete set of the project’s requirements. In addition, all potential risks to the project are identified and appropriate mitigation strategies formulated. The required financial outlay is thus closely matched to the real cost of the project. This is perhaps the best way of accomplishing a major complex project within the specified time, budget and quality standard.
Examples of failed national projects abound in terms of both size and scope. In all cases, the single missing input is a coherent engineering contribution. Given the vacuum caused by the lack engineering capability, many stakeholders have moved in to fill that gap. Hence politicians, lawyers and marketers (few quite genuine) have exercised inordinate influence on projects whose technical complexity far outweigh competence of these apparently well-meaning contributors. However, as will always be expected, the results have been nothing short of a disaster. Gross overspend; delayed completion and low quality are now common experience. Examples of new roads that quickly turn into flooded muddy pathways are a case in point.
The solution lies in the comprehensive understanding of what a sound national engineering capability (and hence a coherent engineering voice) and the immense positive role it could have played, especially in the Vision 2030 development programme formulation and delivery.