, ST PETERSBURG, Jun 22 – Prime Minister Raila Odinga on Friday challenged the political and business leaders in Russia to use Kenya as their entry point to the African market, which he said has become an exiting place with a wide range of opportunities.
Odinga particularly appealed to Russian oil companies to set up operations in Kenya where consumers want competition in the sector to help lower prices.
The PM, who held talks with President Vladimir Putin on the sidelines of the St Petersburg International Economic Forum appealed to him to channel more of his country’s investments to Kenya as many other nations have done lately.
He said Russia is running late, particularly when it comes to investing in Kenya as many Western and Asian companies have lately returned to vigorously scout for opportunities in Kenya.
The PM said Russian oil companies like Lukoil, Gazprom, Rus Al and Al Roso have concentrated in West Africa, Algeria and Angola and ignored Kenya where they are equally needed.
He asked the oil firms to enter the country’s retail market and also to participate in the search for oil and gas reserves saying the consumers needed more competition in the sector to drive service delivery up and prices down.
Prime Minister Odinga later spoke at the final day of the 2012 St Petersburg International Economic Forum during a session on Africa’s emerging promise as the next investment destination.
Odinga, who arrived in the Russian city of St Petersburg on Wednesday evening, told leaders of major business firms attending the conference that they needed to set up Africa operations in Nairobi if they hope to adequately access the African market.
The PM met various business leaders accompanied by Mugo Kibati of Vision 2030 Board and Nelson Githinji from the Ministry of Tourism pushing the position that there is more room for Russian investors in the African financial, construction, agriculture, infrastructure, power generation, and the service sector.
“Our country is rapidly diversifying its trade and investment profile and it welcomes new economic partners from the Russian Republic with open arms,” the PM said.
The PM said Russian firms like Renaissance Capital has established itself as a leading financial brokerage house and investment banker in Kenya and is expected to expand its role as the economy expands.
Odinga told a panel on Getting Down to Business in Sub-Sahara Africa that while he had always been an afro-optimist; believing in the ability of Africa to pull itself out of backwardness and poverty, it was becoming apparent that the optimism is coming to full realization in the life of the current generation of some of those who had dismissed Africa as a lost cause.
Odinga said African economies are in much better economic condition than they have been for a long time, and they have also weathered the 2008/09 global economic crisis with fewer difficulties than other developing regions.
The number of African countries experiencing domestic strife has fallen, to just a few, the PM said, adding the number of African countries experiencing negative GDP growth has fallen from 16 in 1992 to just one in 2011.
“African economies are becoming important players in the global economy at the particularly difficult phase that the world is going through right now and Kenya is keeping the pace. We have lately attracted big firms like General Electric, Heineken, Coca Cola, Visa, among others that headquarters in Nairobi. Those who do not move into Kenya now will be coming in too late,” the PM said.
He said Kenya is keen to provide a manufacturing hub for a number of big companies in the same way China and other East Asian countries have done and the country is upgrading its physical and education infrastructure to achieve the goal.