How Ruto can make Kenya the economic giant of East Africa

President William Ruto at the King Abdul Aziz International Conference Centre in Riyadh, held talks with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed bin Salman who pledged to push for more investments in Kenya’s renewable energy. [PCS]

It was clear from our vantage point at the recent Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia that foreign investment can revitalise the Kenyan economy. But how does President William Ruto make the East African economic lion to roar?

He needs to position Kenya as the investment hub for East Africa; the continent’s preeminent profitable destination for global investment. This can only be accomplished with a carefully orchestrated, brand-focused marketing campaign that raises Kenya’s profile on the world stage.

Although Kenya is East Africa’s largest economy, the nation faces daunting domestic challenges. One causal factor is Kenya’s comparatively poor record in attracting foreign direct investment (FDI). Clearly, Kenya’s potential for receiving FDI has been insufficiently, inadequately, and unartfully promoted at the international level.

Consequently, Kenya receives only a modest slice of the global FDI pie. Ethiopia and Uganda attract many times Kenya’s FDI, which is detrimental to Kenya’s international reputation, is politically costly, and is economically unsustainable.

We propose initiating the East African Lion Project with FDI investment promotion and maximisation instruments drawn from our proprietary Democracy Institute/Kehosa model, “10 FDI Keys™,” that explains and quantifies the 10 economic, social, political, and cultural variables proven to attract FDI.

To correct the nation’s economic course, in the short term we would rebrand Kenya as East Africa’s supreme economic lion. In the medium-to-long term, we would brand Kenya as the most attractive investment location on the African continent.

To succeed, Kenya must stand out from the FDI-seeking crowd. With competition for FDI growing, Kenya Inc. requires a value proposition that gains traction with investors because it resonates with their investment needs, priorities, challenges, and experiences.

We would seek to reintroduce Kenya to foreign investors in the areas of tourism, the Blue Economy, food security, health care, renewable energy, climate change mitigation, mining, infrastructure, education, and water and sanitation.

Is it really possible to rapidly reposition Kenya as a powerful destination for FDI?

Yes, it is. Consider that India progressed from USD $4 billion FDI in 2000 to USD $85 billion FDI by 2022. At September’s G20 Summit in New Delhi, Nigeria secured USD $14 billion in FDI commitments from respective national governments and multinational corporations.

Top North American, European, Asian, and Latin American investors from the private and public sectors were at FII in search of the best recipients for their significant FDI budgets. At the stroke of a pen, host nation Saudi Arabia can alone catapult a nation’s status from an FDI also-ran to an FDI front-runner.

India already receives several billion FDI dollars from Saudi Arabia. Next year, Pakistan will receive USD $50 billion in FDI from Saudi Arabia and three other Arab nations. Mohammed bin Salman, Crown Prince and Prime Minister of Saudi Arabia, not only directly influences where his country’s investments are made, but indirectly influences many other Middle Eastern countries’ FDI decisions, too.

The annual FII conference, otherwise known as “Davos in the Desert,” began as an annual event bringing investors together in the most promising business and financial projects. Today, it is the world’s premiere investment event; the 6,000 delegates and sponsors, and strategic partners comprise the world’s leading investors, economists, businessmen, policymakers, influencers, academics, and journalists.

When Dr Ruto spoke to FII, he failed to engage investors in tailored discussions of the global FDI climate, and to communicate that Kenya is best-positioned to be the next booming, FDI-driven economy. Ditto for Ruto’s subsequent appearance earlier this month, once more in Riyadh, at the inaugural Saudi-Africa Summit. A central theme was boosting investment cooperation between African nations and the Gulf kingdom.

Ruto’s underwhelming and uninspiring Riyadh performances did not progress his nation from a middling FDI nation into an FDI magnet. He simply, but crucially, lacks the necessary strategic calculus, requisite tactical skillset, and powers of persuasion.

The investment world’s attention must be drawn to Nairobi, with policymakers, businesspeople, academics, and the media articulating Kenya’s suitability as an FDI destination. Kenyan stakeholders therefore must successfully answer a plethora of questions including, but certainly not limited to, the following: How do we attract FDI to Kenya? How do we sell Kenyan tourism to the world? How can FDI grow our small business sector, from start-up to sustainability?

Economic history teaches us that financial power comes to those who are willing to seize it. In a comparable vein, legendary American entrepreneur Jim Rohn argued, “To get more, you’ve got to become more.”

Kenyan policymakers must learn and act upon those invaluable lessons to modernise their nation into the continent’s FDI-driven economic lion. Ruto is often characterized as “Minister of Everything,” including investment. Should he fail to learn these lessons, he will be “President of Nothing.”

Mr Basham directs the Democracy Institute, a Washington- and London-based think tank. Mr Ongera directs Nairobi-based Kehosa Investments