Interview Véronica Kariuki “Kenya, the strongest option in the region of East Africa and beyond”

KKenya-France Business Club (KFBC), a platform set up in 2010 to promote the destination Kenya to the diaspora but also to French investors, invites French investors to evaluate the opportunities offered by the “Africa Hub of Africa”. ‘East’, at the 3rd edition of the Beyond Borders Business Forum (BBB) to be held July 3-4 in Nairobi. Explanations with her initiator, Véronica Kariuki, founder of KFBC.

Interview by Bilkiss Mentari

You are organizing the 3rd edition of BBB. What is the concept of this event ?

BBB aims to promote and strengthen economic relations and investment by providing a platform for private companies, Government agencies and investors to establish strategic alliances, forge strong partnerships and exchange ideas for mutual benefit. 

KFBC has held two Business beyond Borders Forums in France. The inaugural Forum was held in 2016 and the 2nd edition in 2018. The 3rd edition is themed, “Spurring sustainable growth through Kenya’s Big Four Development Agenda”, and will focus on Industrialization & Clean energy, Healthcare and Youth & Innovation. 

Given the importance of sustainability in today’s business, we believe that African countries such as Kenya offer the best avenues for the development and implementation of business practices that will see the emergence of inclusive value chains that are of benefit to people without being of harm to planet. 

This year’s focus is on three sectors: industry and renewable energies; the health; innovation and youth. Why have targeted its themes?

We chose these three themes as they represent what we consider the most important avenues of development not only from an investment perspective but more importantly, in improving the quality of life in Kenya and many other African countries with the same conditions. These themes are also in line with a big part of the government’s big 4 agenda which is the blueprint to the country’s development plan. 

Kenya has a wealth of natural resources that have for a long-time been exported out of the country as raw materials to feed the industries of more developed countries in Europe and now Asia. With countries like China developing into service and technology-based economies, the world will require another growth frontier in terms of manufacturing and industrial production. Africa, in general is without a doubt well within the capacity to offer the world such services. We seek to spark the dialogues that will position Kenya as a major hub not only for industrial production but technological advancements that will set the pace for sustainable production methods and practices in the region. Given the vast growth in demand for finished goods (both locally and globally), the development in both civil and energy infrastructure and the willingness of government to support investments, we seek to accompany investors and other stakeholders to explore the opportunities presented by the country and to engage in transforming the future of industrial production. 

This growth in production and manufacturing will however require a healthy, nourished working force that can be productive and reliable. We therefore seek to facilitate investments in healthcare by providing a platform for industry experts to share knowledge and exchange with local partners who have identified ways in which such knowledge can be put into practice to make a difference in the lives of millions who do not have access to healthcare. Given the renown efficiency of France’s medical system, we wish to engage French public and private actors to partner with dedicated locals to design and implement healthcare systems that will ensure quality healthcare is delivered across the country and the causes of health problems are identified and addressed promptly. This will allow millions of individuals to dedicate their time and effort into productive activity to better their lives and contribute to the economy whose potential is yet to be fully unlocked. 

Finally, there is a significant youth bulge in Kenya with almost three quarters of the population being under 35. Unfortunately, this exponential growth has not been replicated in the job market and unemployment levels are growing to unprecedented highs. A recent world bank report showed that Kenya leads the region in youth unemployment at 17.3% compared to only 6% for neighbouring Uganda and Tanzania each. Such dangerous levels of unemployment could quickly turn into a ticking time bomb for a country that has so much to offer. Frustration and idleness could quickly turn a population of promising youth into a life of poverty supported by crime if employment opportunities and an enabling environment for entrepreneurship are not created. It is important to note that the jobless youth are often trained individuals who have pursued education even up to the university level. It is our objective to therefore bring together government officials as well as investors and economists to discuss the issue at hand, identify the root causes of such massive unemployment and then take the necessary measures to ensure that we not only avoid the risk that such a crisis poses to the country but also leverage this willing, educated, creative and robust youthful population to drive enterprise and industry in the country. We are champions for sustainable development, and we believe that the people are a key aspect of a development that is inclusive and truly sustainable. 

The opportunity to put the spotlight on Kenya, regional hub. What is its attractiveness ?

In terms of attractiveness for investment, Kenya has proved to be the strongest option in the East Africa region and beyond. Its infrastructure and state-of-the-art education system has given the country an economic advantage over several other African countries in terms of ease of trade and human capital. The World Economic Forum Country Competitiveness Report ranks Kenya first in Africa for the quality of its human capital and the availability of research and innovation.

At a time when access to information is critical to business success, Kenya is positioning itself as a hub for information technology in the region, with approximately 72% of the country’s population having access to the Internet . This made it not only ideal for the development of Internet-based products and companies, but also for monitoring the business operations of all other companies.

The investment climate in Kenya is the strongest in the East Africa region with a large number of regional and continent-wide multinational enterprises that have chosen Nairobi as their headquarters. The government is seeking to increase this foreign investment by five, from $ 672 million to $ 3.8 billion. To facilitate this, the government has put in place a number of incentives for foreign investors that some of our panellists will share at our conferences.

Kenya has also made significant strides in its financial sector, enabling a wider range of financial services than many regions of the continent. In fact, Kenya is known for its innovative technologies in financial services, including mobile money transfer and mobile banking, which have revolutionized the sector in the country, allowing much better liquidity and security for transactions .

Finally, it is a strong period for Kenya’s competitiveness, supported by a strong government in politics and unprecedented levels of political stability. The government has launched a number of projects aimed at creating the infrastructure needed to boost the country’s economic development in the medium and long term. These projects require significant investments that the government is trying to mobilize through local and foreign borrowing and investment partnerships. The economic development of the country is so important for the country’s leaders that even the opposition has decided to partner with the government to ensure that investors have a favorable climate of peace.

Kenya Business France Business Club aims to bring together Kenyan and French economic operators. Is the challenge raised? The French will participate in your event ?

We have been able to get in touch with a number of French companies who are interested in making the trip to Kenya with a few of them confirming participation. It is true that the economic relations between Kenya and France have historically not been that strong but we believe that now is a good time to reinforce those links. 

It has been a bit challenging to convince French companies, but we are seeing increasing interest especially since President Macron’s visit to Kenya that led to the signing of contracts worth 3 billion euros. We believe that this is just the beginning of very strong economic ties between Kenya and France and we continue to engage as many French companies and individuals as possible to take advantage of the opportunities offered by Kenya’s growing economy. We also seek to showcase the attractiveness of the French market to Kenyan businesses especially for agricultural products and other commodities that are in such high demand in France. 

We have been limited by our limited exposure to many French companies who would be very interested in our events but we are satisfied with the progress and appreciate the growth as we gain more notoriety in France. 

To answer to your questions, yes, some French companies will be part of the delegation to Nairobi.

To conclude, what does the program for this 3rd edition reserve for us ?

For this third edition, it is our objective to give participants the opportunity to join an initiative that seeks to promote and facilitate sustainable development. BBB is not just a series of themed conferences but an event that brings together the individuals and organizations with the power to make a difference through innovative business practices. 

Through BBB 2019, we offer participants the opportunity to explore the exciting opportunities within the world’s next big growth frontier. Though it is a Kenya France Business Club initiative, BBB brings together individuals and organizations from across the globe to discuss business and forge partnerships that lead to profitable ventures which also have an impact. 

We have constructed panels made up of key individuals in each of the selected sectors to give detailed insight on both the opportunities and challenges facing business within those sectors. 

Furthermore, we will organize tailored B2B meetings for our participants based on their activities and development needs in order to facilitate partnership. 

We are also in the process of screening several projects that are currently underway or planned in Kenya that we shall present to participants. Given the devolution government, individual counties now have more autonomy in their development plans, and we offer them the exposure to international investors and experts to assist in setting up various structures and systems according to the individual needs of each county. 

For meetings and introductions with specific companies, we offer site visits for participants to make introductions and visit business premises to learn more about a company and its activities. We also offer advisory services in terms of business development and cooperation.

Beyond BBB, we continuously scout for developments in various sectors both in France and in Kenya. Through our large network of partners, we assemble timely information on the business environment in the two countries and engage our participants accordingly. This has proven quite useful to a number of our partners who have found opportunity through KFBC. 

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