How to make Kenya an investment model for Africa
By Mbatau wa Ngai | September 3rd 2016
Kenyans welcome Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s commitment to making Kenya an investment and cooperation model to the rest of Africa. Japan’s commitment makes it easier for Kenya to realise its dream of being the gateway to, first, East and Central Africa.
Interestingly, Japan is not the first country to recognise the important role Kenya can play to catalyse Africa’s economic development. Discussions with various industrial and business leaders in India, way back in the 1990s, revealed that the sub-continent understood just how important Kenya’s position was to those interested in doing business with East and Central Africa.
It is also worth noting that was around the time Japan launched the Tokyo International Convention on Africa Development. Yet, despite recognising the importance of Africa to their own development and the central role Kenya had the potential to play to bring their plans to fruition, the two Asian economic powers dithered.
The only logical conclusion is that the two contenders for the title of the world’s economic super-power in the 21st Century waited until the then sleeping giant, China, staked its claim.
A casual look at history reveals that the economies of the preceding two economic super-powers, Europe and the United States of America, were built on the backs of African resources. Europe benefited hugely from exploiting African resources, both natural and human, during the colonial era while the US benefited from the sweat of African slaves taken there mainly from the 18th Century.
Indeed, the American backing for the granting of independence to African countries — and the subsequent push for democratisation after the end of the Cold War — can plausibly be interpreted as being driven by Washington’s desire for a share of African resources.
The cold reality behind Tokyo, Beijing and New Delhi’s charm offensive mounted to woo Africa is that the three countries economies need the continent’s resources to power their economies ahead of their European and American competitors. This understanding gives African countries a greater leverage than ever before to ensure they give their own long-suffering citizens a better future than they had since the fatal embrace of colonialism.
Logic dictates that this begins with a re-definition of the terms of engagement between the continent and its foreign suitors. Ideally, these terms would be negotiated at the African Union level so as to shield the weaker countries in terms of inadequate human capital.
But the reality on the ground suggests it would be hard-put to reach a consensus because the foreign suitors are good at the centuries’ old game of divide and rule. This should awaken Kenyan leaders—at all levels and at both the political and civil society spheres—to the fact that their own people and the rest of the continent by default, are looking at them to get the best deals possible.
The best place to start would be to conduct a detailed study of the three economic powers’ ways of doing business with the rest of the world in general. This should be followed up by a close examination of the roles the state played in these countries’ economic rise from the ashes.
These forensic audits would reveal that, contrary to the Washington economic orthodox propagated in the 1970s, 80s and 90s, which led to many African countries divesting from the economy, the successful Asian economic giants rode and are still riding on the backs of strong state investments in industries and businesses. Equally important, their nascent companies were, and some are still, shielded from global competition.
The lesson for Kenya is, therefore, obvious. The Government should step up its intervention in the country’s economic development. This would entail giving more than paying lip-service to de-regulating the industrial and business sectors.
Perhaps, the lethargy in carrying out the required overhaul of regulations may be due to the vested self-interests of those charged with the task. The only way forward in that instance is to, first, overhaul the personnel charged with the responsibility.
A case can also be made for the Government to devise creative ways of getting back into industry. The mistakes made in the 1960s and 70s should, however, be avoided. And its possible.
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