Don's Diary

June 14, 1996

SUNDAY. The devastating impact of last year's Budget on university finance has intensified my own institution's clamour for outside funding. Every cloud has a silver lining, and as a result I now find myself in Nairobi.

I am working on a project involving the design of a voucher system for funding the vocational training of Jua Kalis - manufacturing workers and entrepreneurs in the small business sector. Having reshuffled two weeks of teaching ( thanks to the magnanimity of my tolerant students) I arrive early in the morning, relaxed and well fed on a World Bank-funded business class ticket. The remainder of the day is spent with my task manager.

MONDAY. In a meeting at the project co-ordinator's office, I establish that the development of the voucher is not, as I had been led to believe, embryonic. The embryo has not even been conceived. My job is to design a pilot study to run prior to the appointment of contractors who will run the real thing. Just who will run the pilot is a moot point. I politely get exasperated. Later, I meet with representatives of about 20 Jua Kali associations whose members will be the main beneficiaries of the project. Although I first heard about all this only ten days ago, 15 minutes into the meeting I am left alone by my World Bank colleagues to field numerous detailed questions. I am flattered by the vote of confidence, but daunted. Remarkably, it seems to go well. The meeting ends with prayers in Swahili led by a manufacturer of solar lighting units. My own prayers of Thanksgiving for the end of the day, though in silent English, were equally fervent.

TUESDAY. I have meetings again today, first with directors from industrial training centres and polytechnics. Their faith in government funding reminds me how much our culture has changed. The private sector trainers are generally more flexible and imaginative, but smaller institutions lack the capacity to play a big role in the scheme.

This is typical of the many frustrations creeping into the project. In all my preliminary meetings I find my task manager to be too willing to preach at and too unwilling to listen to the locals - a criticism often levied at the World Bank. I prefer to lead by suggestion, and am particularly keen to learn about the Kenyan context from the Kenyan people.

WEDNESDAY. My task of putting together a workable proposal for the pilot project begins in earnest. It's tough - A needs to be done before B, successful completion of which is a prerequisite for A. The real problem here is a complete information vacuum - much of the existing training provision is done by master-craftsworkers who are themselves Jua Kalis, but there is no list of such trainers. Neither are there any channels of communication between the formal sector training providers and the Jua Kalis. So no one knows what anyone wants or what anyone does. All this needs to be remedied before proceeding any further - and the remedies have to work fast, since the World Bank is keen to make disbursements in the present financial year. I am not paid enough. (Hint: make some disbursements in the direction of British consultants.) THURSDAY. I visit the workplace of some Jua Kalis, an industrial estate packed sardine fashion with car repair shops. Many people are working here, but vast numbers, clearly underemployed, sit around soaking up the beautiful sunshine. The climate in Nairobi at this time of the year is unbelievable. I reconsider my opposition to minimum wages; in a place like this they could encourage investment in both physical and human capital and thus improve productivity, output and employment. If they could ever be enforced.

FRIDAY. A colleague has been delayed on his trip from Washington, so I get the day off. I spend the morning doing university work. This is a blissful return to the equations and statistics that usually keep an economist insulated from things like vouchers and industrial estates. In the afternoon I take a trip to Nairobi National Park - an area of savannah a stone's throw from the city where the lions hunt among zebras and wildebeest, but where electric fences keep them from foraging the streets of the city.

SATURDAY. My colleague having arrived, we set to work honing my proposals. We are delayed somewhat when my laptop picks up the Stoned Kiev virus from one of the World Bank machines - with a constant stream of visitors from all over the world, the Bank's resident mission has more viruses than a hospital. Nevertheless a long day ends in substantial progress. I shall be in Kenya for another week, by which time I will have kick-started the pilot study.

Hopefully the process will survive the resulting inertia once it is put into the hands of civil servants. The latter have rationally learned to moderate their work rate in the environment of a government whose capriciousness makes even British education policy appear a model of consistency. Awareness of the benefits which my work here will bring to needy and deserving people is high reward. Maybe I am paid enough after all.

Geraint Johnes

Senior lecturer in economics, Management School, Lancaster University.

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