What President Obama’s visit means to Kenya

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By Dr Chris Kirubi

For many Kenyans, the news that the US President will be visiting Kenya in July is something to revel in.
We remember fondly his visit to our country before he became President. How proud we were to be associated with potentially the first black President of the economic superpower. I remember the disappointment that registered when the US Government chose to skip Kenya in the last Africa trip.

This is therefore redemption of our hope; that as a country we occupy a special place in Barack Obama’s heart.
I join the government and people of Kenya in welcoming him and his entourage to Nairobi – this is truly an honour and we applaud your decision.

For me, what is noteworthy is that he is choosing to come for the Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES). The GES is his own special project started in 2009 as “a platform to facilitate exchange of views and ideas between global leaders and entrepreneurs”.

What does this portend for Kenya?

First, the unemployment statistics are alarming. About 70 percent of the Sub-Saharan population is made up of the youth. Out of this figure, only about a third are absorbed into formal employment. These young people have aspirations and goals to achieve but the reality is that they are barraged with few opportunities and even scarcer resources.

Entrepreneurship therefore plays a very important role in bridging that gap. It not only enables them to become self-reliant, but it also promotes economic growth through job creation and helps to avert opportunistic crime arising from idleness.

The good news is that Africa has witnessed an upsurge in youth entrepreneurship.

Kenya, specifically, is bursting at the seams with a very high number of youth entrepreneurs. Our young people are no longer content to wait around for absorption into the formal job market. They are taking matters into their own hands, identifying specific market needs and coming up with innovative solutions to these needs.

This summit therefore presents an unprecedented access to business people and companies looking to invest in Kenya. If you are a young person, this will be a life time opportunity to showcase your innovations to people who can do something about it – in terms of incubation, funding, and the difference between failure and success.

The next few months are critical.

The government needs to put in place resources and mechanisms for engaging the most promising young entrepreneurs and showcasing their innovations to increase their likelihood of acquiring funding and support.

When the GES took place in Morocco last year, there was a digital village called the market place set up as a match making platform. Why can we not do something similar? We are excellent at creating applications that can pretty much respond to any arising need. Why not do so? Why not engage our youth so constructively that globally anyone will be attracted to the energy, creativity and innovation taking place in Kenya? For that brief period, the spotlight will be shining on Kenyan youth – what we do with our few seconds in the limelight will mean the difference between making it or breaking it for Kenya. It could be the opportunity that spurs economic growth for a young underserved population.

Ideally, our country’s efforts to make the most out of this summit should be driven by a working committee whose members comprise of varying stakeholders from government to private sector, but driven by the youth. We will require their energy to identify and sift serious and viable projects for showcasing to the visitors. This committee could work with Private Sector players who can conduct the preliminary assessments. It could also work with companies already under incubation hubs as these are already tried and tested.

The point is… we must not sit back idling the days away caught up in the euphoria of President Obama coming to Kenya. This is the opportunity of a life time for Kenya not only to advance our agenda and cement our foreign policy goals, but also to attract as much foreign investment as we can. This is the time to promote and grow entrepreneurship activities for our youth. This tree is ripe for our picking and has brought itself to our farmland. The question is, “are we ready for the harvest?”

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