The first of its kind in the world, a handicraft factory will soon be built in Kenya and staffed by African handicraft workers, to make up for the loss of skilled craftsmen in the country’s industrial collapse.
The aim of the project is to help the country re-emerge from a decade of economic turmoil.
The government of President Uhuru Kenyatta recently announced plans to invest $50m in a handiccraft manufacturing industry, with the aim of bringing it up to a higher standard of manufacturing and manufacturing-related employment.
But in many areas, such as construction, the handicraft sector remains stagnant.
In recent years, Kenya has been slow to embrace the sector, despite an economic boom in the 1980s that brought the country a $100bn industry and created a new manufacturing sector worth $1.6bn in the past decade.
In 2015, the government created a task force to plan a new plan to attract and retain the handicactors, but the plan has yet to be finalised.
“It is difficult to imagine a country that does not have a strong handicraft economy that is not affected by this situation,” said Ranao Shafi, chair of the National Commission on the Status of the African Industry, which was set up by the government in 2016 to look into ways to improve handicraft employment.
“The handicraft and apparel industry is one of the most popular jobs in Kenya, but in terms of employment, it’s not a strong position,” Shafi told The Verge in an interview.
Shafi said that a new handicraft manufacturing facility would also help ease Kenya’s economic crisis.
“It will provide an opportunity for people who are already in the job market to find new opportunities and increase their livelihoods,” he said.
The idea of a factory is also attracting interest from foreign companies, who are keen to invest in the sector.
The US, Australia and China have all signed deals to set up factories for handicraft in Kenya.
Kenya has also seen a surge in the number of businesses employing African women.
But despite a large number of new businesses opening up in the last few years, there are still large gaps in the handiccraft sector’s skillset, with about half of the workers employed by handicraft factories being female, according to the handicaments trade association, which represents handicraft manufacturers.
“We don’t have enough women in the industry,” said Mihir Nair, the president of the handicarms trade association.
“The handicap is a handicap for women in our society.”
The handicaves union is also lobbying for the creation of a separate government body to create and supervise handicraft enterprises.
“Our members are waiting to be appointed,” Nair said.
“They’re waiting to receive their pay, their benefits.
But that’s not happening.
They’re waiting for government to act.”
With more than 4 million handicraft jobs, Kenya’s handicactives sector has always been one of Kenya’s most diverse, with around 60 percent of the workforce being female.
It has been largely ignored in Kenya’s overall economy, despite a growth in manufacturing in recent years and an increase in skilled employment.
Shafi said that handicraft firms in Kenya are still struggling to find skilled workers in the formal sector.
“Even in Kenya we are not doing as well as we could in terms to hire women in formal industry,” he explained.
The handicacts trade union is hoping that the new factory will help create more opportunities for the handicapped in the construction industry, a sector that has struggled in recent decades.
“I would say that handicactes are at the top of the list in terms [of] the skills of construction workers,” Shafi explained.
“In terms of the construction sector, we’re the most over-represented among handicraft industries.”
In recent years many businesses in the African region have been looking to expand their supply chains, and handicraft companies have been a major player in that process.
But despite the increased use of the craft in the commercial sector, Shafis assessment of the industry is limited.
“There are only a few places in Africa that use handicraft,” he told The Guardian.
“So it’s really hard to attract people into handicraft.”