I went to Mauritius last week. It is a Beautiful country with friendly hard working people. Their beaches are stunning. The nation is a melting pot of culture. But as I was meeting my hosts, I was amazed by the amount of interest that they raised to have me invest in their country. And not just me alone, they are thirsty to have more Kenyans put their money in their country. As the ‘ambassador’ of young people in Kenya, I took time off to draw some lessons that can help us. As the chairman of Brand Kenya, I always look out for opportunities for our motherland and I found plenty in Mauritius.
First, the importance of African countries investing in each other cannot be overemphasized. If there is a continent which continues to bubble with untapped potential, it’s undoubtedly Africa. Some of the most coveted resources of the world e.g. minerals, wildlife, culture, a youthful population, among others are found in Africa. It is time for Africa to rise and be a global powerhouse. But how can we achieve that when we barely trade with each other?
I want to urge every African investor, before thinking of putting our money in foreign markets, to invest right here at home. African markets like Kenya and Mauritius are teeming with potential and also offers very handsome rates of return on investment.
Instead of always importing finished products that are extracted as raw materials from Africa and processed abroad, Africans can set up value addition industries that can retain the wealth of Africa to benefit Africans. Because as I always say, Africa is poor by choice. In as much as trade bans have been lifted in most African countries, high tariffs remain a significant barrier to trade in Africa. Closer to home, some countries in East Africa still expect duty charge for imports of East African products. How then will we compete with the world when we compete among ourselves?
Second, there exist travel restrictions in some African countries e.g. it is easier and cheaper to travel to Dubai than to go to Zanzibar. It takes about four days to apply for a visa to go to South Africa. For Africa to move forward, we must have an open border policy like European countries do.
Could it be that what ails Africa and hampers unity is a lack of trust between countries? We seem to always be in competition with each other instead of complementing each other. Remember the old adage; If you want to walk fast, walk alone but if you want to go far, walk with others.
Third, we are in dire need of a Pan-African business mentorship program. Why don’t we have different African nationalities offer mentorship to upcoming business leaders from Africa without being limited by borders? The African Women’s Leadership and Mentoring Initiative, as well as the Tony Elumelu Foundation, are making tremendous progress to bridge the gap but we need to scale it up. Other successful business leaders from Africa need to offer their time to mentor other upcoming leaders because what we invest in others inform of mentorship is much more valuable than what we leave behind for them in terms of inheritance.
Fourth, we can study and look at each other’s industries. What can we export and import from one another? There is a lot to learn. Let us make it easier to form bilateral partnerships. We should open the doors and let each other in. Your network is your net worth.
We need to strengthen our working relationship. There are unexploited potential and a ready market for consumption. Mauritius has a long track record of being a leader in several industries like tourism. Can Kenya and Mauritius work on a partnership to exchange knowledge so that we adopt best practices from one another?
Fifth, the population of Mauritius is like that of Mombasa. At a population of 1.3 million people and a land mass of 2,040 sq. km, their GDP per Capita is at USD 10,000 (upper-Middle income). In comparison, Kenya has a rough estimate of 47 million people (36 times that of Mauritius) and a land mass of 219, 788 sq. km (108 times that of Mauritius) but our GDP per Capita stands at USD 1,245.
Though their economic development overshadows that of Kenya, there is some light at the end of the tunnel because we have a lot of opportunities to become a greater Nation. Compared to their GDP growth rate which is at slightly 3% PA, Kenya’s at 5.4 % PA in 2015 can easily overtake theirs.
My final advice to young people of Kenya; the amount of money you have in your hands shouldn’t limit the size of your vision. Do not despise humble beginnings, just DREAM BIG. You would rather attempt and fail while doing something than not fail at all by not attempting anything. A ship might be safe at the dock but remember that rough seas make skillful sailors. There are many opportunities beyond Kenya’s borders like in Mauritius, please leave your footprint there.