An ambitious multi-billion shillings project to create 20,000 jobs in Taita Taveta County is in the offing, thanks to Kenyans in the diaspora.
Already the Taita Taveta County Assembly has approved the Sh100 billion diaspora university town development plan.
The proposed university is to not only provide education and conduct research but promises to transform the lives of thousands by creating jobs and promoting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) while also encouraging the creation of new ones. SMEs are to have a piece of the immense project by being awarded tenders to supply materials.
The county is enthusiastic the project will change the economic fortunes of its population through the expansion of employment opportunities and affording small firms a golden chance to participate in the project.
Besides the contracts to supply raw materials and render an assortment of services, entrepreneurs will also benefit immensely from transfer of skills and experiences as they undertake the project.
The plan, which borrows university towns in the US, targets to create 500 new SMEs and 20,000 jobs in five years. While these may seem overly ambitious, the project leaders say their forecasts are based on solid evidence from similar models of town universities elsewhere.
“The university town model is not new. Amherst Town in Massachusetts that President Uhuru Kenyatta studied at and where one of our founders, Prof Philliph Mutisya of North Carolina Central University went to, is a university town,” says Mr Dan Kamau who heads the site development office in Voi.
The jobs expected to be created have been classified in six categories: university, town, design-build, medical hospital, tourism and SMEs (Small Medium Enterprises).
Ndara B community chairman Benjamin Mwandaa, whose community is to benefit from the jobs says: “The move by the diaspora to create jobs is good for the young people. My community is happy to be part of the project.”
Mr Mwandaa said about 80 percent of those who have expressed interest for the jobs are aged between 18 years and 35 years.
Mr Kamau added: “The new town is for meeting the constitutional rights of healthcare, housing, clean water, social security and education for these young adults.”
Regretting the production time lost when persons stay idle during the day, he estimates that Kenya is currently losing about 40 million hours of production time a day and about 10 billion hours annually.
“If this time is valued at an average of Sh500 per hour, it equates to losing Sh5 trillion every year. The diaspora university town project will put about 150 million hours to production, 100 million hours at the site and the other 50 million hours in production and transportation of materials and supplies through SMEs across the country,” he said.
Mr Kamau said WPI Professors Arthur Gerstenfeld (Retired) and the late Prof Raphael Njoroge mooted the idea for the university development. The second idea was a housing development using diaspora capital and was started by diaspora Kenyans.
“The two ideas would become development plans and later merge through to become a university town development plan,” Mr Kamau said.
He added: “Thereafter the system would become the Kenya University Project (KUP) system once adjusted to incorporate the Constitution.”
Mr Kamau thanked President Kenyatta for encouraging Kenyans in the diaspora to invest in the country.
“When the President addressed the largest assembled diaspora meeting in Boston 2014, our team was looking to ask him to consider talking about jobs creation in Kenya. The President was thinking of the same and his main message that day was a request to the diaspora to create jobs. The President then said that the human resource is the most important resource,” he said.
He said the failure of having sustainable economic plans that incorporate housing is part of the reason why there were many slums and unplanned settlements adding that the 47 counties should invite good plans to copy from the 50 states in the US.
He further explains that the system incorporates jobs growth and housing development through Gross Domestic Product (GDP) growth systems like those applied in the US GDP growth.
He says: “Approximately 300,000 Kenyans who went to the US in the last 25 years got jobs and good housing.”
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The establishment of the university also involves setting up 6,000 residential units, presenting huge opportunities for small businesses.
Already, the group has identified a 1,500-acre land out of the 3,000 acres needed for the establishment of the university.
“The approved plan is for a university that can accommodate 30,000 students and 90,000 residents on 3,000 acres of land,” says Mr Kamau.
The university model, he says is based on WPI project-based learning approach which brings together SMEs, education investors as well as property developers, town planners and designers, among other players.
“We call it university town because the ratio of students to residents will be one student to three residents,” Mr Kamau says.
More opportunities also lie in wait from the way the university conducts its learning, which incorporates project-based research and innovation.
“Over 1,000 persons have so far expressed interest to be part of the project. The project will transform their lives as they work and create wealth for themselves,” Mr Kamau says.
“The biggest loss in Kenya every year is when persons stay idle when they would have been building the town, house, road, producing material, educating children or doing something that develops Kenya.”