Businessman Chris Kirubi was among the five top investors who accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta to China last week.
During the trade mission, the government managed to secure deals amounting to Sh425 billion in grants for various development projects in Kenya.
Kirubi speaks more about the trip.
Q. As a businessman, you have travelled to so many countries in the world, what was so special to you about this visit to China?
A. First, I felt so privileged to have been among the five business people selected by the government to accompany the President. We attended all the meetings with him (President Uhuru Kenyatta) and I discovered that the Chinese people are very pro-business. We were received with warmth and happiness and nobody asked us negative questions about Kenya. This is the first trip to that country and felt that we should have gone there many years ago. The whole trip was very successful and I would rate it as one of the best. There were various discussions with governors about investments in their counties and those who went there with defined projects plans; they actually did conclude some serious agreements. We should be sending more delegation in the future and not necessarily with the President.
Q. In the various meetings you attended, what were the Chinese investors’ interests in Kenya?
A. I think they were very keen on infrastructure, energy and property development. They are very strong in development of properties. As you know they have developed millions and millions of homes for their people. From one corner of the cities to the other. They have good skills in design. Their hotels are a marvel to see and to stay in. However on our part we should look for partners to buy our coffee and tea. If every Chinese took a cup of coffee, we would not have enough coffee to sell. We need a strategy. What do we sell to them?
Q. There is a perception that China wants close trade relationship with Kenya, to just gain from our resources. How true is this from what you learnt on the trip?
A. You know, business is a two way partnership. You cannot be doing business with somebody and he is not doing business with you. In fact, this is our problem with the West. The West wants us to buy more of their goods and restricts ours exports. We hardly export anything else to them apart from tea and coffee. I think this must be redefined so that those who want to trade with us must also give us a chance. Our coal that we will mine with Chinese support, we must convert to energy and export only what we do not need. Money has no colour, whether it comes from East or West. Kenyans should wake up and take advantage of this new opportunity and develop themselves.
Q. Do you think this presidential delegation trip to China and other Asian countries will affect Kenya’s relationship with the West?
A. I think the West love themselves; they know they have been benefiting a lot from Africa. And if they boycott Africa, it will be their own detriment. But personally I think they will not and maybe China is a catalyst to make them wake up. Many people, like in America do realize that they are missing opportunities in Africa and its time they woke up and not just come and invest in the stock market but more in adding value to our raw materials here, invest in energy sector, infrastructure and many other things.
Q. What are some of the things you learnt from this trip that Chinese are doing and you think we can emulate?
A. One of the main thing I learnt, which is worth emulating, is discipline. They are a very much disciplined lot. If they agree with you that you are meeting at say 5:10pm, they are there five past five. If you were to discuss business, they do not discuss politics at the same time. They are also very hospitable people. They give you the treatment that makes you feel valued. I don’t mean Kenyans are not hospitable, but the Chinese are a special breed. I also believe some of the governors who were on the tour with us saw that Chinese people do not ‘fear the sky; they allow development (buildings) to go up. And not build bungalows. Land is limited and there too many people all over. The same thing should happen here. We must develop properties while maximizing our land.
Q. Where would you want to see Kenya’s relationship with China in the next five to 10 years?
A. If I have anything to do with it, I would love to see it strengthened and deepened. I would love to see Kenyans schools adopt teaching of Chinese language as a future barrier breakdown in terms of relationship, because many Chinese don’t speak English language and vice versa. We also need to understand their culture and they understand ours too. I equally do hope that between the two governments, they will help fight counterfeit goods.
Q. Many SMEs in Kenya are struggling to get markets for their products, how can they benefit from the Kenya-China relationship?
A. I personally think that with a reformed chamber of commerce people should be going through the chamber and should assist them in making those serious partnerships in terms of who to partner with, how to sell and even what to buy. So that we don’t waste our foreign exchange by buying and bringing cheap things here. I had always believed Chinese goods are very flimsy and very poor in quality. But what I saw in China; is a very different market. They have very high quality goods and in fact you could buy anything. Some of the meals I had, I used cutlery, plates that I have never ever used in my life. I mean, gold plates and gold spoons. At some point, I felt like taking a spoon and putting it in my pocket. Beautiful stuff, I tell you.
Q. What was the most memorable moment during this visit to China?
A. Besides the marathon meetings, the most memorable thing is standing on a line, next to our President and seeing a 21 gun salute staged for him, and watching the parade of the Chinese military. I have never seen people walk like robots. These guys were so much in line with each other that you couldn’t believe they were not one person moving. I also believe it is not common to see a President from a ‘small’ African country, visiting a nation like that and given the highest recognition we received. I stood there and my stomach was just going, ‘boom’, every time there was one of those guns going off. I will remember that for a very long, long time.