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Kenya should look beyond Washington DC for investors

UREPORT
By Chris Wamalwa | July 14th 2013

By Chris Wamalwa

Kenyan governors and lawmakers both at the national and local levels are scheduled to visit Washington, DC, the capitalist capital of the world ostensibly to ‘share’ experiences and to compare notes on how to run County governments with their more experienced counterparts in the US. They will also be coming here to look for business and investment opportunities from American entrepreneurs.

In fact as I write, there are Senators and Governors from Kenya currently in the US on such missions. I also know that another group, comprised of lawmakers mainly from Nyanza are in the process of making travel arrangements to attend a seminar in Dallas, Texas.  And, word is out that Nairobi County Governor Evans Kidero will be here next month.

So, before summer is over and the cold season sets in sometime in November and everything and everybody goes into hibernation, those of us living here will be playing host to ‘our’ leaders from home.

Sometimes these encounters can be informative because when these leaders travel abroad, they are easily accessible and approachable unlike at home. These visits are also important and should be encouraged because in as much as Kenyans love to tout theirs as a “unique” system, the Kenyan County system is in reality, a poor copy of the US system that created States within the Union. Within the states, you find local county governments that function independently and very efficiently. It is only if you live here, and are a beneficiary of the ‘real’ devolved system that you’d appreciate how poor and confusing our Kenyan system is.

It is true, there is so much to learn in Washington, DC if one’s intention is to study and maybe write a book about a dysfunctional democratic system. The truth of the matter however is that DC is good for shopping and for showing off but beyond that, it would be squandering the tax payers money to come to Washington, DC and return back home and claim to have conducted business in America.

At best, you may have spoken to one or two lobbyists who told you that they could organise a trade fare to your country or county for that matter. That is the reason why if President Obama wants to make an impact on anything, he moves out of DC. He usually travels to States to talk directly to the people.

My unsolicited advise therefore to leaders coming to the US with plans to seek investors and partner groups from the US is that, please, look beyond Washington DC. I say this because over the years, I’ve come to realise that most meaningful and successful business and investment meetings and deals take place in states away from DC.

Unlike in Kenya where everything happens in Nairobi, in the US, real investors with their own money looking for investment opportunities especially in developing countries are found in places like Philadelphia, Boston, Dallas/Houston, the twin cities, Atlanta and such.

To do this one should establish contact with the Diaspora in the state one is interested in building partnerships. It is a fact that in almost every State one is likely to find a group of Kenyans with local connections who would be only ready to facilitate such meetings. It has been said that most of us in Diaspora suffer from a guilty feeling of abandonment and would therefore do anything to feel we are being patriotic.

I know that most of us in the media have tended to accentuate the negative when it comes to the Diaspora, but the flip side however is the reality that in as much as the Diaspora have numerous issues of their own, in almost every state, you would find Kenyan professionals who work in the local governments or who have very strong connections within local governments. These people could prove more useful than lobbyists on Capitol Hill.

 


 

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