Nairobi – United States President Obama flew out of Kenya leaving behind a confident administration of President Uhuru Kenyatta, a deflated opposition, and a group of loaded businessmen, firms and venture capitalists following the signing of multi-billion-shilling contracts.
People in Kenya with good business ideas will be able to access U.S.$1 billion in a new start-up fund, which the president of the Global Entrepreneurship Network, Jonathan Ortmans, said would be a panacea to the death of start-ups in Africa.
Internet giant Google, tech manufacturer IBM, and firms such as the Mara Foundation, SkyPower, General Electric, Ernst & Young, Citi, Rendeavour and Chase Bank have all pledged money to the fund to support African entrepreneurs.
SkyPower inked a $2.2 billion deal with the Kenyan government on building plants to supply 1,100 megawatts of solar and wind power. According to the principal secretary in the ministry of energy, the government official who signed the deal, SkyPower would be required to “build, own and operate” the plants to help the government meet its target of 5,000 megawatts of power by 2018. Currently, Kenya’s power supply is estimated at 2 000MW.
“SkyPower’s… investment will create more than 25,000 total job years in Kenya and includes 200 MW of fabrication and assembly facilities, as well as a commitment of $173 million toward education, training, and research and development,” said SkyPower executive vice president Charles Cohen.
Also, Mawingu Networks, a Kenyan firm that supplies cheap solar-powered wireless internet to rural areas in Africa, caught the eye of the Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC), the US government’s development finance institution, which promised a $4 million loan.
“The development potential from creative private sector organisations like Mawingu captures the spirit and promise at the heart of this week’s Global Entrepreneurship Summit,” said Elizabeth Littlefield, OPIC’s president and chief executive.
“Financial support at crucial stages of a company’s business evolution can transform a great idea into a deeply impactful reality for millions in the developing world. By leveraging technology and ingenuity, Mawingu’s massive reach to connect rural African communities to the internet is just beginning, and I look forward to the growth and scalability of this model that OPIC financing can unlock.”
Aside from business, the politics of the country was put in the spotlight during Obama’s visit.
The music to the ears of the government came in the form of Obama’s endorsement of President Kenyatta’s war on corruption, his pledge to the Kenyatta government that the US was going to work with it, and that civil society should remember that the US would “support the national agenda” of Kenya.
For President Kenyatta and his deputy, William Ruto, the two people who got into power when Western governments, including the U.S., were up in arms over charges of crimes against humanity, Obama’s trip was a huge win.
Macharia Gaitho, a veteran columnist for the Daily Nation, Kenya’s biggest newspaper by circulation, said the visit had “repaired traditional ties” that had been “strained” since the Kenyatta-Ruto duo got into power.
“The warm hugs, firm extended handshakes, arms around the shoulders, backslapping and numerous whispered conversations were all signs that Mr Kenyatta and Mr Obama had found a rapport after years of tension.”
Bad news came when Obama let out the secret of what he saw as double-speak from the opposition. He met four former cabinet ministers, Raila Odinga, Moses Wetangula, Kalonzo Musyoka and Martha Karua, who over the last decade have held crucial and powerful positions in the Kenya Government: Odinga is a former prime minister, Musyoka is a former vice president, Wetangula was the foreign minister, and Karua was the minister for justice. All are leading lights in the opposition, and they want help, including from the US.
When they told Obama their qualms in a brief meeting on Sunday, he had to remind them that they had been hostile to advice on governance when they were in power. “I told them, you have a legally elected government and we are going to work with that government, but we are also always going to be listening to all elements of Kenyan society,” said Obama.
He did not forget that they were the very people who harassed US diplomats for pointing out issues of corruption under their tenure. “It was funny, though, one of the opposition leaders, I won’t mention who, was saying, ‘You know, we really need you to press the Kenyan government on some issues.’ And I had to say to him … remember when you were in government, you kept on saying, why are you trying to interfere with Kenya’s business; you should mind your own business.
“So everybody wants the United States to be very involved when they are not in power. And when they are in power, they want the United States to mind their own business,” said Obama.
As his plane landed in Ethiopia, Kenya was politically on fire. Kenyans demanded answers but the opposition leaders, still smarting from the blow to their egos, stayed mum. They banded together in a brotherhood of sorts and refused to name the person whose hypocrisy had so astounded the US leader.
Dr Alex Awiti, the director of the East African Institute, said Obama’s trip and public address to the country was a message of hope, and wise counsel to the leaders to fix obvious governance loopholes and to propel the country to greater heights.
“The millions of youth who lack self-esteem because they are not from the right tribe have a chance to dream big and aspire to be their very best,” Awiti noted in an article published in The Star, a Kenyan daily newspaper.
The interior cabinet secretary, Joseph Nkaissery, was also upbeat that no incident of terrorism had been reported while Obama was in Kenya, and vowed to ensure it stayed that way.
Now that Obama is gone, it is upon Kenya to take his counsel or ignore it. But one thing for sure is that the country will never be the same again.
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