Rethinking Jua Kali : Innovation under the Sun

A sector that defines the modern day kenya, Jua Kali has become the economic core of small enterprise in this country. We don’t have a proper definition for the Jua Kali sector yet and it remains largely undocumented and unregulated. Infact, a lot of the entrepreneurs in the JuaKali still work out there in the sun.

However, this sector plays an important role in the economy and most importantly, the potential it holds, if tapped can become a catalyst for innovation and growth in the creative economy. Who exactly is Jua Kali?

That guy making a beat with his PC using FL Studio from his bedroom is Jua Kali, the handbag designer whose shop is a facebook page or the low end music video producers are all Jua Kali.

Perhaps we need to rethink JUA KALI and re-write the way things have been done to spur innovation. Why should Jua Kali become the hub of innovation and creative enterprise?

With innovation, goods with a unique identity are created, leading to market differentiation and thus opening opportunities for creative industries across East and Central Africa.

To do this I suggest we first look at how best to apply the concepts illustrated in the diagram below.



  1. Access to Markets

For all enterprise to thrive, people must be able to trade freely and easily. In some places in Kenya, a marketplace is a hard thing to access for many reasons. The primary one being the lack of market places, sometimes it isn’t a physical market that we need. Infact, even the oldest towns and cities grew around markets. You just need to look at the sorry state of Kenya’s biggest markets in Nairobi and Mombasa to see how badly we are doing.

  1. Finance

Every entrepreneur that has tried to scale up at some point know how hard it is to grow without capital. The best performing economies around the world have a common denominator. Access to credit for small entrepreneurs – who later grow to become big corporations. In the developing world, access to credit is limited and government interventions such as Uwezo fund, are still limited and haven’t had an effect. Micro -lenders are charging exorbitant interest rates. Whereas SACCO’s are still an option, access to credit is still a major challenge and a big drawback.

  1. Intellectual Property Rights

I can bet you, 90% of the people in Jua Kali do not know a thing about Intellectual Property Rights. They have no idea how IPRs apply to their innovations or it’s importance. In other economies, they measure growth of creative enterprise by the number of IPR applications. Process can be simplified and entrepreneurs enlightened on the importance of IP.

  1. Knowledge and training

How did China become the biggest economy in less than 3 decades? A lot of it has to do with the government policy and work ethic, it wouldn’t be possible to build on that without knowledge transfer. Perhaps this is the reason why an artisan will make Jiko’s the same way for 10 years straight without any improvements. Efforts should be made, especially via the Ministry of Trade and Industrialisation, to cascade knowledge to the Jua Kali sector so that we can have better products or processes.

  1. Networking

Innovation does not thrive in a vacuum. Constant interaction would facilitates an environment of collaboration among the industry sectors. Workshops and seminars that target the sectors will improve the collaboration and flow of ideas. Again, this will not happen by itself as the market forces are not always fair or supportive of the collaboration. Networking will help in addressing the challenges such as business development and management, investment attraction and market development.

  1. Innovation and Governance

“…innovation tends to emerge where the value of creativity is favourably perceived, with a high degree of freedom to set one’s own agenda, where creative talents are better organized through business and supported by institutions..”

Think, what if the government awarded for the most creative Jua Kali entrepreneurs out there and every year for 5 years. In such  a process, appraising would be left to the government departments working with established corporations or experts. The result would be tremendous appreciation for creativity right down to the grassroots and new dawn of newer ideas once creativity is acknowledged and supported by institutions.

Pipe dreams?

Let me know what you think in the comments below.


Creative Industries for the Youth – UNESCO


Creative Industries – Technology Strategy – Innovate UK


Culture and Creative Industries – UNESCO



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