The other day i had exhausting discussion about why Chinese have to come here build everything for us and the reason behind Kenyan Road constructors doing poor jobs as compared to Chinese. Then it hit us that most Kenyan engineers work as sales people. They are employed by the big Multinationals basically to mostly do the after sales support or marketing. In essence there is no real knowledge transfer for example when you are working for Samsung, Nokia or HTC in Kenya as an engineer. You would expect our engineers to gain valuable experience for the country, move on and form their startups after working for a given Multinational for a number of years. Unfortunately that is not happening anytime soon, but how awesome would it be to have a phone manufacturing company started by Kenyans?
That is why I was so happy when I met Kenyans working in the Nokia Research center in Nairobi sometime back.These guys don’t actually do the design work but at least they have been involved in the customization of the Nokia phones to fit the local settings. They do the local language customization and provide the support to local developers. They also collect the views and give feedback to the people back at the Head Quarters on what would work well for Africa. Unfortunately, sources within Nokia Nairobi Office, indicate that the Research Center is being scaled down. In the next few days or months, the Research Center will remain with around three people and probably will be shut down before the end of the year or early next year.
I guess this will form part of the planned layoff of 10,000 workers globally by the end of 2013. Many Kenyans who have been working for Nokia have moved on and the Nairobi office is now like a Ghost town. I once sent an email to the head of marketing department, then it took forever to get a reply, actually I did not get any reply at all. Then I took time to visit the office, just to confirm whether the email was received. I did not find the person in the office, but one of the guys working there gave me a story of the remaining employees being overworked and that each department now have only one or two employees. So you find out that the head of marketing has the whole marketing department for herself/himself, and has to do the actual hustling to get things done.
In terms of shutting down the Research center, Nokia has planned to do it in other places too. The company will shut research and development projects in Burnaby, B.C., and Ulm, Germany and the core manufacturing plant in Salo, Finland.
We still see Ash range of phones coming out but as it stand it is just a matter of time before Nokia shift completely to Windows devices, even for the lower range. With that in mind, I guess Nokia is trimming R&D from the software department including the production line of Symbian devices. And that could explain why Nairobi Research center is no longer needed.