Welcome to Kenya, welcome to opportunity


There are those who imagine the future. And then there are those who create it – those who transform our societies so completely that we forget there ever existed another way.

This weekend, it is our privilege to host many of them. The world’s foremost thought leaders, business development experts, and emerging and established entrepreneurs and innovators, will meet in Nairobi for the sixth annual Global Entrepreneurship Summit.

On the agenda will be possibility. It is only fitting, then, that this year’s summit is hosted by Kenya; a country that epitomizes the transformational power of possibility. Our country, once known for its savannah, has now earned an international reputation as the Silicon Savannah. A country where the vibrancy of the economy is matched only by the verve of our youth, and where ground-breaking refers not just to some of the most important infrastructural projects in Africa, but also to our trail-blazing mobile money transfer technology.

The choice of Kenya for this honour is a sign too, of the growth of a continent on the rise. We are a hub for investment, commerce, trade, and tourism, yes, but we are an African hub, and our possibilities are matched by our region’s promise.

Equally, we all know that it is our young people, and their energy and innovation, as well as their culture of entrepreneurship, who are best able to turn promise into prosperity. We know, too, that talent and intelligence are widely spread, but that opportunity is not. That’s why we have invested so much in our youth: we know that if we unleash their talent, then their energy will lift us all.

That’s the potency of entrepreneurship: its ability to elevate people’s lives in a way that honours their dignity. The founders and leaders of the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, many of them American, understand this too. That is why they founded it five years ago. That is why they have taken the time to visit us.

In visiting us this weekend, they recognise the promise of Kenya, but also of the continent. Africa’s story is one of renewal and renaissance, not, as some would have it, of despair. Time and again, we’ve proved our detractors wrong: half a century ago, few gave us much chance of escaping the bondage of empire. And yet, here we are, free to chart our own course. What we have done in the past, we can do again. Our fathers won the political freedom of the continent. In this generation, we must win total economic freedom for our countries and peoples. The summit is a most substantial step on that journey.

Freedom does not, of course, preclude cooperation with friends and partners. Among the most important of these is the United States. Even before independence, we enjoyed close ties. Down the years, those ties have only strengthened – and, as the example, of President Obama shows, many are ties not just of friendship, but also of family.

Like us, America has remained true to the path of democracy. Like us, solidarity has been their watchword. One of the great examples of that solidarity is the work of the great jurist, Thurgood Marshall, who came to us at the end of the colonial era, and helped us draft the constitution under which we won our independence. Another is the great airlift of men and women from Kenya, and other African countries, to the United States, where they learned much, before returning to give their all to the building of a new, free Africa. Some of this country’s most distinguished sons and daughters were educated in this way, and from Wangari Maathai to Philip Ochieng’, they remained prominent in the life of the nation for decades after their return.

One of those who learned much in the United States was Barack Obama Senior, a man of many gifts who returned to serve his country in the years after his education. His son, the President, will close a circle by returning to his father’s homeland this weekend. I need not ask Kenyans to welcome him, and all our visitors, from far and wide, as warmly as we can.

But let me close with a message to our visitors. Welcome to Kenya. Welcome to possibility. Karibuni!

(Kenyatta is the President of the Republic of Kenya)

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