Why Americans are back despite us turning East

President William Ruto and his US counterpart Joe Biden and their spouses pose for a photo after the Africa Leader Summit, Wednesday, December 14, 2022. [White House]

In less than 100 days, President Ruto has visited the United States (US) twice.

In the same 100 days, Bill Gates visited Kenya and a Kenyan won the CNN Hero of the Year award.

Add the fact that a Google doodle had the Kenyan flag on Jamhuri Day and the founder of the internet talked to Kenyans on that day.

This pattern can’t be a statistical aberration. We could overthink and ask why President Ruto did not extend his trip to Beijing after visiting South Korea.

We could also ask why the former CEO of Hewlett (HP) got an ambassadorial posting to Kenya.

Remember Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg visiting Kenya too? I checked and noted one of the digital lenders with the name of a town in Machakos has its head office in Silicon Valley.

Soft power

Intoxicated by politics, other countries see Kenya as a technology Wild West.

Why are Americans back, using their time-honoured approach, soft power? What is at stake?

Let’s add that Americans have always been here. We watch their movies and name our children after famous Americans, maybe more than biblical names. I see lots of attire themed on the American flag on Kenya streets. Despite turning East economically, we copied the American constitution. Did we copy anything from the Chinese constitution? We never seem to get enough of America. I saw Ghanaians flying American flags on their cars.

It’s still prestigious to study in the US or immigrate there. Our fourth president was a student there.

The US could have made the current strategic moves under a president educated in the US, but they waited for the transition when things are fluid. They could have calculated that the Uhuru regime was too tied to China.

Americans play the long game. They ended the Cold War without firing a shot. The path Americans have used to get Kenya into their orbit is a stroke of genius. Use the technology route, tech-diplomacy.

We are tech-savvy, mimicking Silicon Valley with our Silicon Savannah.

That is the language all Kenyans can understand, from hustlers to the rich. The basic ingredients of a tech revolution in Kenya are there. What is waiting is scaling up and making more money.

Faster internet

I find the internet in Kenya faster and more accessible than in some developed countries. A well-educated and technologically literate and Americentric workforce is in place too. But the outstanding attraction is innovation best expoused by M-Pesa and digital lenders. Think of it, East African Breweries Ltd is 100 years old, but has been outdone by 20-year-old Safaricom in market capitalisation.

The digital lenders will be future banks, just wait. By regulating them, CBK could have inadvertently forced them to mature! Americans would love to leverage this state of affairs. They see innovation and money thereof.

Americans must look beyond the borders. Social media is mature now, they want something big and more profitable. That could be money transfers, payment solutions or lending. That is more lucrative than social media.

Remember M-Pesa did something no one thought possible, it helped us skip cards into electronic payments, way ahead of the US and other developed countries.

Could the US be saying in whispers; if we can’t beat them, join them? Think of the money one could make if M-Pesa became a global brand or was replicated, like MasterCard or Visa.

Curiously, cards resist being creatively destroyed by M-Pesa. And guess who owns the biggest card companies?

Smell money

Theming Jamhuri Day celebrations on technology and innovation was a great idea, but we should not fail to see the invisible hand behind that; Americans.

One thing I respect Americans for is their ability to smell money. And there is money in Kenya’s tech space.

The US-Africa summit may be the American response to China’s foray into Africa. But the US seems to have a tailor-made strategy to get into Kenya’s tech space and its money, and return Kenya into America’s orbit using soft power.

Don’t be surprised if you hear of some major acquisitions after the US-Africa summit.

The long-term strategy is to get hold of tech space and then scale it up like Facebook or Google. Think of M-Pesa with a global scale like Google or Facebook.

You are still asking why Americans are back in a big way? Will they fund a mega project to rival SGR or will they keep their focus on services, their key strength?

On why Raila Odinga and Ruto were both in the US at the same time, my hunch tells me the tech-diplomacy must be spiced up with ordinary diplomacy and some realpolitik.