Kenyan government officials and business stakeholders made a passionate pitch in Washington Wednesday for increased investment by US companies.
A day-long conference dubbed “Doing Business in Kenya” featured presentations by three cabinet secretaries as well as the country’s acting US ambassador and several American and Kenyan business executives.
Keynote speakers and panelists were unified in highlighting the “beautiful story of Kenya.”
Attention was directed to the country’s economic successes and beckoning opportunities. National problems, including insecurity, were acknowledged but emphasis was placed on progress toward solving them.
Stephen Hayes, head of the US Corporate Council on Africa, described Kenya as “the linchpin” of East Africa.
He referred to Nairobi as “the thriving business center of Africa, along with Johannesburg and to some extent Abuja.”
“If you’re going to do business in Africa, Kenya is almost a requirement. Kenya’s importance continues to geometrically expand for us,” he said.
Mr Hayes’ organisation, which co-sponsored the conference along with Kenya’s Washington embassy, represents almost all US companies operating in Kenya.
He told his council members and prospective investors that the recent spate of terror attacks should not scare them off Kenya.
Noting that every country in the world faces security challenges, Mr Hayes said the Kenyan government “is doing an outstanding job” in addressing them.
“We are very confident in that country,” he added.
Foreign Affairs Cabinet Secretary Amina Mohamed enumerated a series of large-scale projects and initiatives intended to accelerate the country’s development and facilitate investment.
She cited expansion of the Port of Mombasa to accommodate larger cargo ships, upgrading of terminals at Jomo Kenyatta International Airport and the launch of a one-day process, via mobile phone, for registering a new company.
Ms Mohamed also described the heavy demand for Kenya’s recent $2 billion Eurobond as “a milestone and a stepping stone to emerging-market status.”
She said US investors accounted for two-thirds of the subscribers to the bond and the enthusiastic response to Kenya’s debut in the international financing market was a clear manifestation of investor.
Ms Mohamed told the conference that Kenya is committed and determined to win the global war on terror assisted by partners, including the USA.
Energy Cabinet Secretary Davis Chirchir listed various mega projects in the energy sector, including geothermal power development, oil and gas, exploitation of coal energy in Kitui and construction of an oil pipeline from Turkana to Lamu.
“We are not very happy with our World Bank ranking on doing business,” said East Africa Community, Commerce and Tourism Cabinet Secretary Phyllis Kandie.
On the basis of data gathered last year, the bank ranks Kenya 129th out of the 189 countries included in an ease of doing business index.
“We are working on it, and you will see results in a short time,” Ms Kandie said.
Vision 2030 Director-General Gituro Wainaina highlighted key projects under the Kenya’s development blueprint like the Lamu Port Southern Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (LAPSSET) corridor, Konza Techno City and Isiolo Resort City.
Mary Kimonye, CEO of Brand Kenya, also addressed security concerns, saying the military intervention in Somalia reflected Kenya’s standing as a democracy not afraid to punch above its weight.
“Kenya is taking a bullet for everyone in the world. This is a time when we need friends and support,” Ms Kimonye said.
Kenya Investment Authority Managing Director Moses Ikiara said the balance of trade was in favour of Washington and urged US business to invest more in Nairobi.
He said they were providing incentives like tax relief for firms that would export over 80 per cent of their produce.
“Investors in Economic Processing Zones will also get a 10-year tax holiday, and for another 10 years, they will pay reduced tax like 20 per cent as the rest pay 30 per cent. They will also bring in equipment tax-free,” he said.
Managers of US companies that are already doing business with Nairobi urged other American investors to rush for a share of Kenya’s investment pie.
General Electric chose to base its Africa operations in Nairobi because the Kenyan capital offers easy access to rich business opportunities throughout the continent, said GE Africa chief financial officer Thomas Konditi.
He pointed to enormous unmet demand throughout Africa for electricity, basic health care and air travel.
Kenya is a desirable location for US-based businesses planning to move into Africa, added Diane Wilkens, president and CEO of Development Finance International.
She used the conference as a platform for announcing the opening of her company’s Nairobi office next Monday.
“Our clients wanted us to be there yesterday,” said Ms Wilkens, whose investment-advising firm serves some of the largest companies in the United States. “It’s all about Africa now.”
In choosing Kenya as its base in Africa, Development Finance International considered security issues and concluded that the country warrants confidence, Ms Wilkens added.