Obama’s entourage: The billionaires coming to town — and their interests in Kenya

US President Barack Obama jets into the country this weekend on a historic visit to grace a summit expected to bring together the wealthiest innovators from around the world.

Business leaders, among them billionaires who own big brands, will arrive in Kenya before Airforce One touches down at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport on Friday.

Three-term former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, ranked as the 13th wealthiest man alive is already in town, although it’s unclear whether the politician-cum-philanthropist will be addressing the summit. He is also CEO of financial news and information company Bloomberg.

President Uhuru Kenyatta has taken his pitch online, welcoming the US head of state and other delegates to the “land of opportunity”.

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While the complete list of delegates has remained secret outside the White House and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit secretariat, Business Beat has found out the names of some of the top investors who will be coming to Kenya, and looks at the opportunities they would be hoping to land.

In the last summit held in Marrakech, Morocco, last year, there were about 2,000 delegates, among them 159 speakers including US Vice President Joe Biden.

Three of the speakers were Kenyan entrepreneurs whose businesses are largely unknown but got the attention of the White House. Among the three was 22-year-old Barclay Paul Okari, who founded Impact Africa Industries, then a three-year-old company that manufactured affordable sanitary pads.

The company has 34 employees and currently distributes within Kenya, Uganda, South Sudan and Tanzania, according to Mr Okari’s brief.

State House has yet to reveal which Kenyan entrepreneurs would be attending the summit.

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Mr Bloomberg, 73, is best known for the news agency he founded, and is estimated to be worth $37.5 billion (Sh3.8 trillion — about the same value as the Kenyan economy as measured by gross domestic product).

Inspire women

He has not granted interviews yet, but his business interests are easy to spot. Bloomberg has operations in nearly all countries in the world, and the news terminal is used by investment professionals across the globe for real-time financial markets information.

He could be scouting for more opportunities in growing the scope of the news terminal in Kenya, widely viewed as the regional headquarters of sub-Saharan Africa.

Thousands of business journalists from around Africa are currently undertaking a short course his firm is sponsoring through a $10 million (Sh1.02 billion) initiative, delivered through tens of universities, including the University of Nairobi and Strathmore Business School.

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Rebecca Enonchong, a Cameroonian technology entrepreneur based in the US, will be one of the speakers at the summit.

She is the founder and chief executive of AppsTech, a company based in Maryland that is a leading provider of enterprise application solutions, and has operations in more than 40 countries.

It is expected that Ms Enonchong will inspire women by speaking about her success as a techpreneur in a male-dominated space. Her story would also likely resonate with the thousands of upcoming tech start-ups in Kenya, hoping to create Africa’s version of the US Silicon Valley.

Nigeria’s Aliko Dangote, a billionaire businessman who made his money in commodities, particularly cement, sugar and flour, is also slated to attend the summit.

Forbes ranks him Africa’s richest man, and the 67th richest in the world, with a net worth of $17 billion (Sh1.7 trillion).

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His listed company, Dangote Cement, has been exploring new markets in Africa, including Kenya, and he recently announced he would be investing in oil refineries.

Kenya would, therefore, be a particularly strategic investment location for Mr Dangote’s ambitions, given the country’s discovery of oil resources and Government plans to build an export pipeline.

Rhett Power, an American author and marketer, is also scheduled to speak at the conference. He owns a children’s toy company based in South Carolina called Wild Creations, which has won several awards and is listed among the fastest-growing businesses in the world.

Fashion icon Daymond Garfield John, 46, best known for his clothing line, Fubu, announced on social media that he would be in Nairobi for the global summit. He is worth an estimated $250 million (Sh25.6 billion).

Mr John is a star of reality TV show Shank Tank, and together with two others on the five-member team of business executives, has been vocal about his trip to Kenya.

The show gives budding entrepreneurs a chance to make business presentations to bid for investment from the panel of five ‘sharks’.

Barbara Corcoran, founder of Barbara Corcoran Venture Partners, and Mark Cuban, an investor, film producer, and owner of the basketball team Dallas Mavericks, are the other ‘sharks’ expected to speak at the summit.

Ms Corcoran took out a $1,000 (Sh102,000 at current exchange rates) loan to start The Corcoran Group, and used the money to build a billion-dollar real estate business, which she later sold. Her investments, mostly in real estate, have enabled her amass an estimated value of $80 million (Sh8.2 billion).

Mr Cuban made his money selling video portal Broadcast.com to Yahoo! for $5.7 billion (Sh584.1 billion) in 1999. He reinvested the money in the Mavericks, television network AXS TV, cinema chain Landmark Theaters and movie studio Magnolia Pictures. He is currently estimated to be worth $3 billion (Sh307.4 billion).

It is clear from the TV series that the three could be scouting for investment opportunities in local companies that have solid business ideas with clear revenue channels and are looking for capital.

Green energy

British billionaire Richard Branson, who is open about his love for Kenya, led a group of investors to State House last week ahead of the summit, which he said he would be attending after meeting with President Kenyatta and other top Government officials.

His team was seeking to invest about $1 billion in green energy in Kenya, tapping into the abundant sunshine to generate electricity from solar panels.

Demand for electricity is projected to run ahead of supply, owing to rapid industrialisation, presenting a window of opportunity for investors in energy generation.

Mr Branson, who owns several businesses under the Virgin brand, is already a big investor in Kenya’s hospitality sector, with a top-end hotel in the Mara aptly called Mahali Mzuri, which loosely translated means the perfect place. He is worth an estimated $4.9 billion (Sh502.1 billion) and is the 12th richest person in the UK, and 330th in the world.

Another American investor expected at the conference is Frank Alan Mosier, the managing partner of Kazimir Partners — a fund management firm with offices in Moscow, London and New York.

Mr Mosier bought out Renaissance Capital and has interests in Tatu City, a housing project expected to be Kenya’s largest private municipality.

“President Obama’s visit and the Global Entrepreneurship Summit represent a watershed moment for Kenyans and for international investors in Kenya. We expect the visit to pave the way for more foreign direct investment in Kenya — led by American investors like us — and to unlock greater access for Kenyan goods and companies to the US market,” he told Business Beat last week.

“The steps presidents Kenyatta and Obama take to facilitate this trade and investment will be closely watched, and like the investments we have already made, can have a significant impact on Kenya’s economic future and the prosperity of every up-and-coming middle class Kenyan.”

Industrialisation Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed added that the gains from the conference would be clearest after the summit ends.

“This is about striking business deals, with benefits coming way down the road,” he said, referring to the anticipated pacts delegates could sign in prospective investments.

Direct flights

Kenya will be hoping that restarting direct flights between Nairobi and the US could help in the revival of the tourism sector, while the renewal of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (Agoa) granting unlimited duty-free access to African exports could attract investors like John to start producing shoes in the local EPZs.

Bloomberg reports that President Obama could be worth about $7 million (Sh717.3 million) and holds between $200,000 and $400,000 (Sh20.5 million and Sh41 million) in college savings accounts for his two daughters, Malia and Sasha.

This places his wealth ranking considerably below that of some of the delegates expected at the summit. However, he is the world’s secondmost powerful person, according to Forbes’ latest rankings, after Russia’s President Vladimir Putin.

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Barack ObamaGlobal Entrepreneurship SummitMichael BloombergAliko Dangote