There are many opportunities emanating from Africa that make business sense. Looking at primary needs such as food, clothing, accommodation, education and health is a pretty good place to start and build a business solving these basic problems.
It has been interesting seeing the business delegations and world leaders coming to Kenya. The Global Entrepreneurship Summit led by none other than the president of the USA, Barack Obama included two sharks from the famous Shark Tank TV programme. Then China came calling with ‘goodies’ which I will call ‘Investment in the future of Chinese prosperity’. India and Turkey followed with business delegations, and the list goes on. As a country we have played host to a number of international conferences: the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD-VI), the fourteenth United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD 14) and many more.
As the business community, how well are we prepared for the opportunities the world is seeing in Kenya? Hallo! There is oil in Kenya, a good number of skilled labour is available, and the middle class is growing. There is thirst for higher education, increased business opportunities for women in terms of finding and doing business with government, the laptops project, the Standard Gauge Railway (SGR), the airport expansion, investment in security and need for superior health care solutions. Kenya is the epicenter of doing business in Africa; it’s centrally located, has a known airline (Kenya Airways), and hosts one of the four major UN office sites. Are we only seeing the loose change for taxi services, game drives to Nairobi National Park and hotel bookings with these international meetings?
We need to invest in the productive sectors of our economies and services. We need to be known for world class service and hospitality. We are competing with Ethiopia, a country with a population greater than 80 million, an annual growth rate of over 7% and an autocratic though stable government. The question is whether or not democracy is good for business. Qatar is also controlled, it’s stable and many want to work in the Middle East where taxes are low, and they are ready for business so long as law and order are maintained.
Doing Business in Kenya Going Forward
We need to start thinking innovation and creativity. This is the only way we can be competitive. Doing business and only thinking of Kenya as a market while international companies are setting base in our back yard is naïve. We need to invest in productivity and efficiency. We need to understand we are competing with China, India, Brazil and the rest of the world. With this knowledge what do we need to do? We need to ask ourselves what we are most competitive in. Is it sports, tourism sights, skilled manpower, etc.? As a country then we should invest in education, health and infrastructure. We have to invest heavily in training in our areas of strength. We need to look at our laws to make them business friendly. Let’s champion the rule of law, where cases are determined fast, justly and affordably.
Africa is the fastest growing market. Let’s position ourselves as business friendly and build partnerships for inter Africa trade. This will spur business in the continent, create jobs and build Africa. Kenya is a gateway for doing business in Africa. It is high time we bring efficiency, productivity and innovation in our business assets as a country, namely: transportation (ports, air transport, roads and logistics), banking (Equity, KCB, Coop) and people. We need to build good neighbourliness with Tanzania and Uganda. Fighting over Migingo Island or lost pipeline deal is thinking small in the face of the business potential in the region.
Are we ready for the opportunity India, China, Japan and others have seen in Kenya and Africa? Those who are ready will reap large dividends.
Getting the right strategy for the future:
Investment in people: We need to make education accessible to all our youths. Education especially in science and technology has the capacity to enhance development into the future. Mpesa has transformed how business is being done. We can do more.
Health care: VIPs who get unwell in Sub Saharan Africa come to Kenya. Kenyans go to South Africa, India and USA. If we invest in health by having adequate specialists with enough facilities to carry out their trade, making health care affordable and accessible, we can reduce outward bound forex.
Use what we have: We have natural attractive sites that are unique to Kenya: Maasai Mara, Mount Kenya, Mombasa, Lewa Conservancy, Lake Victoria, etc. Graduates of Utalii college in the tourism sector are a resource most sought after in Africa namely Ghana, Nigeria, Rwanda to name a few benefiting countries. Proper promotion and investment in infrastructure in these areas have the capacity to double our GDP, create jobs and make many Kenyans experience better economic development.
Lessons to business owners
- Innovation and creativity is the way to go. Safaricom is staying ahead due to innovation. It takes investment in human skills which are available in Kenya in plenty. Hire and train according to your needs.
- Running solo operations will make you some money but will not get you far. The experience of taxi operators in Kenya is a good example. We need to build solid, competitive companies backed by technology, efficiency and value to target customers.
- We need to think Africa and the world, and start building capacity in terms of our vision, strategy and execution. Let’s build partners through franchises, cooperation and acquisitions. The private sector needs to engage African governments; otherwise we have lost it to China and India.
In the next article I will cover how to be competitive in a highly competitive environment. I must apologise I took an unannounced paternity leave, but I am now back. Let’s engage.