By Kenfrey Kiberenge
When President Kibaki assumed office in December 2002, he declared that the era of roadside policy declarations was gone.
At the time, most Kenyans welcomed the pledge. Ten years later, Kibaki’s admirers think he has kept his promise. But his detractors accuse him of simply substituting it with nocturnal announcements.
Retrospectively, I really do not care where the decision is made – all I want is action! And now I am even more convinced that those so-called roadside declarations made people work. This week the President led a high-powered delegation to London for the opening of the Olympic games and a series of business events.
One of these was the opening of the Kenya House in Stratford that is located at roughly 10 minutes’ walk from the Olympic Park. Kenya Commercial Bank has sponsored the House, and Brand Kenya is running it to showcase Kenyan culture as well as investment opportunities.
One of the most impressive exhibits in the House is the Konza City that has been baptised the ‘Silicon of Savannah”.
From my experience in London, all the world’s eyes are trained on Africa. China, India, Brazil and the Asian Tigers have had their day. And boy, did they optimally use the attention to their benefit! I have had a chance to visit the offices of several senior Government officials and nearly top managers of blue chip companies in UK, who have businesses in Africa. Most say their businesses are growing faster in Africa. I have also established that Kenya is a big player in the continent alongside Nigeria and South Africa.
Virtually all are, however, concerned about the volatility of Kenya. After the 2008 post-election violence, they say they are convinced that “anything is possible” in the beacon of peace in a troubled region. Some are also impressed by Kibaki’s shrewdness in marketing Kenya as he did at the start of the Olympics. After seeing the tens of senior Government officials in Kibaki’s entourage, one remarked that Kenya had demonstrated the charm offensive akin to China’s before breaking into the Big Boys’ club.
But after visiting Kenya House last Monday as Kibaki opened it, I was left wondering if we are doing it the right way to reap the maximum benefits. I felt Kibaki meant well for Kenya. But I wondered if he – and therefore Kenyans – had been cheated. About 95 per cent of the audience were Kenyans – 70 per cent who had travelled from Kenya for this event.
Wasn’t this supposed to showcase the country’s investment opportunities to the outer world? With Kibaki as the chief guest, this ought to have been the highlight of Kenya House.
To me, this called for a roadside declaration – heads should have rolled! Majority of those in the audience had access to the exhibits before. They did not expect the President to use taxpayers’ money to fly 7,000 kilometres to come and show it to them. I still do not know what strategy the organisers will employ to get the right visitors.
There are few news stories on the wire but I haven’t seen much in the local press about the exhibition. I know the Olympics news has taken most of the pages but no newspaper would reject an advertisement. Besides the advertisements, other exhibitions have been handing out fliers on the streets to passers-by. These people may not have the capacity to invest in Tatu or Konza cities, but they could afford a safari. At Kenya House, it seemed as if the stewards were flown in to arrange the tables and seats, which they derived much fun while at it.