When Thomas Edison was tirelessly working on the first light bulb, he probably did not know his innovation would light up the world. 100 years after Edison founded the General Electric, the company is staying true to its founder’s vision of putting innovation to work by lighting up the world and powering communities.
Although GE has been in Africa for more than 50 years, it wasn’t until 2005 when GE set up a regional corporate office in Nairobi manned by two administrative staff members.
“In 2011, we made a deliberate decision to be more involved in Africa by establishing a sub-Saharan headquarters in Nairobi. The headquarters has grown to a strong staff of 120 of which 95 percent are Kenyans and that’s a deliberate GE commitment,” says Deo Onyango, Regional Commercial Growth Lead, East Africa.
Onyango adds the choice to have the headquarters in Nairobi was quite obvious for GE. The strategic location of Nairobi in relation to accessing the rest of the region and the cordial relationship with the Kenyan Government were factors that influenced GE’s decision to settle in Kenya.
It is this relationship with the Government that has seen GE make long-term financial commitments in Kenya. The multinational company has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with the Kenyan Government to partner in several key areas where GE has expertise and experience.
“The MoU is in line with supporting the country’s Vision 2030 of adding 5,000MW to the national grid by 2030, GE has promised to deliver 1000 – 1500 megawatts of power to the national grid within the next five years,” says Onyango.
He adds the investment in energy will cost 1.5 billion dollars and will require specialized skill sets which GE is ready to deploy. GE is bringing on board its innovative history in energy generation which includes a 750-1GW LPG plant at the Coast.
“GE is building a biomass power plant in Nakuru that will be powered by biofuel from farm produce from surrounding farms. The project also includes a local distribution grid that will see the plant add 2.4 to 2.8 MW to the national grid. This is the first of its kind in Sub-saharan Africa,” says Onyango.
“We also have a 60 Mega Watt wind power project in Kinangop which should be commissioned by early 2015 and a planned one at Kipeto around Corner Baridi area that will produce 100MW.”
Onyango says Vision 2030 provides a structured, measurable and predictable framework for investors and partners to plug in and invest in the country.
“Though its aspiration, the fact that the government is committed to the implementation through the Mid-Term Plans gives us confidence to make long term commitments in line with Vision 2030,” explains Onyango.
In addition to the government’s plan to transform Kenya into a middle income country by 2030, Onyango adds Kenya’s energy regulatory and legislative framework is one of the best in Africa.
“The incentive for independent power producers, a clear tariff structure, a clear power generation and transmission of power all the way to the consumer and a predictive return of investment helps us structure deals with a consortium of partners with a fair level of predictability.”
GE is also working with the government in the health sector by conducting a study on how to improve efficiency in public health facilities in the referral, level 5 and 6 categories. The MoU also includes improving oncology centres and maternal and infant care.
“We are particularly keen on enhancing local capacity and working with Kenyans to provide home-made solutions to local problems.”
GE is working with three Kenyan doctors who have developed an anesthesia unit for children and which is suitable for emerging markets. The care station 300 anesthesia machine will provide a basis for future development of similar stripped-down technology to be used in developing countries.
“We have a structured MOU with the University of Nairobi and JKUAT. A number of engineering students have interned at GE and we also run competitions and are involved with STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths) Africa.”
The company is also looking to deepen its investments in the aviation and transport industry where it has been supplying and servicing engines in Kenya and Ethiopian.
“We are here to stay and we are keen on building communities and working on sustainable solutions,” concludes Onyango.