- Nairobi, 23rd April, 2018- When President Uhuru Kenyatta headed to London for the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting (CHOGM), many thought this was yet another mission to represent Kenya at a high level meeting. However, following closely to the activities that the president either presided on or took a key vantage role, this only paints a man on a mission.
Buoyed by the need to get his key agenda for his final term achieved under the banner of the big four (Manufacturing, affordable heathcare, food security and decent housing) President Kenyatta sought to convince investors that the country was a better bet for their pounds.
Britain which heads the Commonwealth has for a long time been the largest trading partner only competing with Uganda as the main buyer of Kenyan commodities. The investments by british firms has run Kenyan key sectors including mining (Magadi soda before it was sold to Indian investors as well as Tullow Oil), farming (especially in horticulture), manufacturing, motor vehicle assembly, banking, ICT and military.
The British Ambassador to Kenya Nic Hailey was recently quoted in the local media praising the UK firms for their role in paying huge sums in form of taxes. “British companies are huge in this economy, several hundred having been here for decades. We are undoubtedly the largest investors. In fact seven of the top 10 tax-paying companies in Kenya are British firms offering jobs for one in 10 Kenyans.”
However, these investments have been dwindling in the same rate as the frosty intergovernmental relations between the two countries. The beginning of Jubilee administration weighed down by international cases on both the president and his deputy worsened the situation. The relationship has however, taken turn with President Uhuru visiting London twice in the last three years.
During this year’s visit, President Uhuru first stop was the London Stock Exchange where he targeted investors in one of the most influential securities market in the world.
“We are inviting more UK companies to invest in Kenya as we are the third most competitive country in Africa with a liberalized economy.” During the session, president Uhuru announced that National Oil Company, the government run oil manager would list in the London Stock Exchange. This is seen as a plan to whet the appetite of oil investors eyeing the Kenya oil reserves.
The session was later followed by a round table meeting between the biggest british companies which includes the beer manufacturer Diageo, Tullow oil and Quantum Power. This meeting again, the President pushed aggressively for the private sector to re-look Kenya as an attractive destination for their investments.
The Kenyans in the diaspora were not spared either. During a talk he gave at the famous Chatham House in London, President Uhuru pleaded with them to take up opportunities presented both in Kenya and abroad.
“London is the global centre of banking and investment; it is a city that urgently seeks out more investment opportunity and higher yields. Kenya and East Africa is full of energetic and ambitious young people who can build goods and services for a rapidly growing middle class and population. We need to do more to lower the cultural, bureaucratic and communication barriers to that investment.”
He continued, “We will walk with you each step of the way. On our part, as Kenya, we can do much more to lower the barriers to investment at scale. You will have noted that we made aggressive reforms in the ease of doing business during my first term. We will do even more.”
By the time President Uhuru was meeting the Queen of England and other Heads of Governments, the charm offensive had already been achieved with various commitments being made. However, it is still early to see what the London trip will offer.
Currently, there are about 100 British investment companies based in Kenya, valued at more than STG £2.0 billion. Significant British investors include Barclays Bank, Standard Chartered Bank, GlaxoSmithKline, ACTIS (formerly CDC Capital Partners), De La Rue and Unilever.
The UK is Kenya’s second most important export destination. Kenya mainly exports tea, coffee and horticultural products, with the country accounting for 27% of the fresh produce and 56% of the black tea market in the UK. On the other hand, motor vehicles, printed materials, machinery and chemicals form the bulk of imports from the United Kingdom.
In 2013, exports from Kenya amounted to KShs. 37.61 billion, while imports amounted to KShs. 49.02 billion, with the balance of trade in favour of the United Kingdom.