Lessons Kenya can learn from Dubai

Burji Khalifa, world's tallest building found in Dubai. [File, Standard]

Dubai has positioned itself as an investment hub for entrepreneurs from around the world by providing an enabling environment to start or grow a business.

The Dubai government has set up various entities such as the Dubai Chamber, the Dubai International Financial Centre, the Dubai Startups Hub and the Dubai Future Accelerators, which create an attractive environment for startups.

Other institutions include the Dubai Multi Commodities Centre (DMCC), Womena and the Dubai Design District.

These organisations offer training and mentorship programmes and help connect startups with potential investors and markets.

Dubai has made it easier to get licences and through the above organisations provides startups with free zones where they pay zero taxes and are helped to find co-investors.

Omar Khan, the director of International office at the Dubai Chamber told The Standard in Dubai that 20 per cent of government tenders are set aside for small enterprises.

The city has also waived property registration fees and reduced municipality fees to help startups get off the ground or expand their market reach, he said.


This, coupled with other incentives, has helped shore up foreign direct investment (FDI) in Dubai.

In a statement, Hamdan bin Mohammed, the Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Executive Council, said Dubai attracted 257 FDI projects in key sectors, most notably in knowledge and technology in the first half of 2019.

These investments injected 46.6 billion dirhams (over Sh1.3 trillion) into the Dubai economy - a growth of 135 per cent compared to the same period last year.

Hamdan pointed out that Dubai was particularly successful in attracting advanced technology and specialised talent.

"With the growth of talent and technology, Dubai will accelerate its drive to become the smartest and most sustainable city of the future,” he added.

High and medium-tech projects led job creation with 48 per cent share, with Dubai ranking second globally in FDI economic potential, said the Crown Prince.

But even as startups troop to Dubai to set up shop there, where the ecosystem offers them necessary infrastructure, the founding partner of Astrolabs, Muhammed Mekki, says lack of awareness in Kenya and Africa of the available opportunities in Dubai has meant that very few startups make use of the free zones.

Dubai is the largest re-exporter of coffee and tea in the world and it sources its produce from Kenya and other producing countries for resale in other markets.

With Agriculture, particularly tea and coffee, being Kenya’s key foreign exchange earner, startups in Kenya could benefit from the free zones found in the DMCC, for instance.

The DMCC has a tea centre that handles 53 million kilos of the produce annually.

Lack of market for their produce and exploitation by middlemen are the main challenges Kenyan farmers face and though agri-business is fast gaining traction in Kenya, facilities like the DMCC can help sort out these issues.

According to ‘Dubai FDI Monitor’ data, FDI projects with high and medium technology component reached 47 per cent of total FDI projects in the first half of 2019, based on the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development classification criteria.