This is the second part of a two part Interview of Eng. James Mwangi. The first part was posted last week. We tackle in a candid manner issues timeless and timely affecting the engineering community in Kenya. Eng. Mwangi, He is a Registered Consulting Mechanical Engineer by the Engineers Board of Kenya (EBK) and a Corporate Member at the Institution of Engineers of Kenya (IEK). He is the Chief Executive Officer of Kurrent Technologies Limited, a consultancy firm that provides complete energy solutions. {Click here for the first part}

Q. Do you think engineers understand what local content is all about?

I do not think engineers critically grasp what local content is all about. I do not think the engineers have taken their time to understand the laws of our country starting with the Constitution and the laws that affect the profession. There is very limited participation by engineers in the various stakeholder consultations on matters that affect the profession. We lack the presence of engineers when relevant legislation is being developed so that they can give their input. 

IEK should deliberately try to make engineers understand legislation that affect them, say the Engineers Act 2011, Energy Act, National Construction Act and others. Engineers also need to understand devolution and how it affects them. We have a high level of legal ignorance in our profession. The sad part is that the foreigners are more legally literate than many of us. They have identified the loop holes and opportunities presented by these laws and exploit them to their benefit. 

Q. What affects the ability of engineers to act in their interest and bargain or engage collectively as a group? I have never seen engineers agitate for anything in Kenya as a single group.

There is lack of a common platform, lack of inclusivity, lack of a single strong voice, and deficiency in formulating a single agenda. Engineers need to be willing to be visible and criticized and to be brave enough to take a backlash from the positions they have taken. In many ways I think we lack courage. We only talk among ourselves, talking among ourselves on an issue that ails us has no benefit. It is important to identify where your issue needs to be taken and take it there. Sometimes people do not take on strong issues because of personal agendas. We must overcome fear and personal agendas and talk openly on our issues. We must be loud about our issues.

Q. How comes the public does not seek the voice of engineers on engineering matters? Commenting on engineering related issues is left to architects, politicians and others who may lack the competency to give opinions on such matters. 

The engineers have done this to themselves. The only time you talk to someone is when they talk and you see they can talk. The profession has lacked visibility therefore we do not come to mind when issues come up. People do not come to us because we are not there. We have also failed to be proactive; we have become a very reactive profession. We react when engaged; we do not act to seek a reaction. 

Q. What do you think is the place of politics and activism in the engineering profession?  

Politics is in every facet of life; you cannot shy or run away from it. Politics is about fighting for resources and opportunities. To imagine that you can live in isolation to politics is a fallacy. However, professionals need to act ethically when engaging in politics. Activism is important because we are competing with other professionals for space and resources.  Today what helped us get the Engineers Act are those engineers who went into politics like Eng. Nicholas Gumbo and Eng. John Kiragu. To me, there is politics in our life and we need to engage in it in an ethical and professional manner.  We need competition in leadership; we also need leaders held accountable for their actions and inaction.

Q. How was your experience challenging for the post of President of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya?

It was a great experience and am glad I engaged in it. I was able to interact with the entire spectrum of engineers from students to fellows. We were able to start an online platform called Telegram for engineers where we have more than 2700 members and growing. My candidature and that of like-minded persons brought in a level of awakening in the profession. We were able to get more people and discuss more issues during that period.

I however do not agree with the result of the elections. I have no faith in the current electoral process. This is why I went to the courts. There are areas of concern to me that I feel should be addressed to get a free and fair election. I am advocating for and will only participate in an election which is free, fair and open. The elections should not be run by the candidates themselves. I support electronic voting conducted by an extremely credible party.

I went into the elections to assist the marginalized, disadvantaged and young engineers. I am still committed to this. 

Q. What qualifies you to be President of the Institution of Engineers of Kenya?

First of all I am a Practicing Registered Engineer; I have also been in senior leadership positions in different organizations including businesses. I have served at the Association of Engineers of Kenya (ACEK), at Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA), Group of African Member Associations (GAMA) and Petroleum Institute of East Africa (PIEA). 

I believe in servant leadership, life is a service. If you are in a position to help you have a moral obligation to help. Since I went into private practice I have experienced inequality, I have seen corruption. We need to act on these vice.

Apart from ACEK I have not seen the other two engineering bodies condemn corruption. You never see any Engineer reprimanded for wrong doing, no one gets disciplined when on the wrong, there is poor governance and people have no faith in these two bodies.  I want to help tackle these issues.

My conviction is that engineers must claim their space.

Q. What Vision do you have for IEK?

I would like an institution that ensures that engineers get their rightful share in Industry and Infrastructure development.  I would like to see an IEK that attains the desired number of engineers and surpasses it. I would like to see that all learning institutions that offer engineering courses are accredited. I also would like to see graduates of engineering get gainful employment or go into engineering entrepreneurship. 

I would like to see the engineering capacity in Kenya developed to the level that we can export it to the region and internationally. I have a vision of IEK as a hub to nurture specialized skills in the profession to make us the best in the world and also make it a center for excellence in our profession.    

I also hope that IEK will be a vibrant institution where all engineers of different shades, skill and persuasion will join and participate actively.

Q. What is next for the profession and IEK?

We need Change.

We need change in our perception, in the way we look at things, the way we drive our agenda, and in the way we include all relevant parties.  We need to be more inclusive and speak in one voice. We need to clean our house embrace professional ethics and eliminate corruption. For example in instances where IEK seconds individuals to different boards, we should have transparency. This should be done through competitive and open criteria. This should apply even to the individuals seconded to EBK.

We must be open; we must change and claim our space.


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