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GES 2015, a turning point for Kenya

COMMENTARY
By Kiprono Kittony | July 23rd 2015

As US President Barack Obama makes his historic visit to Kenya for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES), Kenyans, and indeed the world, will be watching keenly. This is because this particular GES is fundamentally different from the ones before it.

The thing that prominently stands out about this year's GES 2015 is the choice of Kenya as the destination for the event. It adds a refreshing twist to the event's five-year history. None of the past five GES events have been held in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) before. Past events have instead taken entrepreneurs to the US, Turkey, UAE, Malaysia and Morroco, but not SSA. The choice of Kenya for this year's summit therefore underscores the fact that Africa, and Kenya in particular, has become a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship.

Being a centre for innovation and entrepreneurship, however, is one thing. Being able to leverage on this characterisation to rope in US investments is the most crucial but also the hardest part. Now, more than ever, the private and public sector need to pull together to craft collaborative long-term strategies to attract and retain investment, particularly from cash-laden US investors. An area of immediate concern is security.

The private sector in Kenya has been appealing to the Government to overhaul security for an extended period. The GES 2015 provides the perfect platform for the private and public sectors to engage the US President in one unified voice and appeal for expanded assistance in tackling insecurity, particularly the appalling vice of terrorism.

Being a key global player in the fight against terror, the US can generously support Kenya in its fight against Somalia-based terror group, Al Shabaab. This will not only help safeguard the sound principles of freedom and tolerance that the US and Kenya hold so dear, but it will also serve in the interest of both American and Kenyan businesses operating in the country. Security and investments go hand in hand; you cannot divorce one from the other any more than you can night from day or darkness from light.

In addition to pressing for stronger security support from the US, Kenyan businesses, particularly those in the hospitality and the broader tourism sector, will appeal for the lifting of travel advisories imposed by the US. We believe that travel advisories inspire fear rather than courage. And fear is exactly what terrorists want to spread. Kenya is at the forefront of denying terrorists this victory.

President Uhuru Kenyatta recently joined other shoppers at Westgate after it was reopened following the 2013 terror incident that claimed 67 lives. As President Kenyatta and hundreds of other brave shoppers boldly demonstrated, Kenyans will not cede ground to terrorists by giving them what they want. The business community will therefore be keen to urge the US to embrace a similar spirit and lift the travel advisories.

But our advocacy will go beyond simply urging the US to lift travel advisories. The re-establishment of direct flights between the US and Kenya will be top on the agenda during the GES 2015. We want our people to travel more and trade more.

Trade, by its very inherent nature, is about movement. Although it is primarily about movement of goods, it is, to a greater extent, about movement of people. Traders and investors need to move in and out of markets to establish distribution networks, meet partners, policy makers and other stakeholders. The summit also provides an opportunity to press for more investments and reflect on some of the investments that US investors have made in Kenya in the past.

The US's focus on developing renewable energy in Kenya is not only applauded, but encouraged even further. This is because there is a need to broaden our energy mix beyond our current heavy reliance on rainfall and fossil fuels. No assessment of US engagement with Africa would be complete without mentioning the African Growth Opportunity Act (Agoa), a piece of legislation in the US that grants 39 sub-Saharan African countries duty-free access for around 6,400 different products (mostly garments) into the US market.

Kenya is the biggest beneficiary of Agoa under apparels, with  imports from Kenya in 2014 totalling $379 million, the highest in Africa. The 15-year extension of Agoa comes as a boost for Kenya. We will be keen to express our gratitude to President Obama.

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