A U.S. delegation traveled to Kenya on Thursday to attend the inaugural economic summit of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya.
About 500 delegates, including Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta and Gilbert Kaplan, U.S. undersecretary of commerce for international trade, other high-ranking government officials from both nations and representatives from nearly 30 major U.S. corporations, gathered at the summit, which was aimed at creating partnerships between the two nations’ public and private sectors in order to foster economic growth.
The Kenyan agenda was centered on advancing Kenyatta’s “Big Four” priorities — universal health care, manufacturing, food security and affordable housing — that he set out after his re-election to a second term last year.
American companies in attendance were looking for opportunities to expand and to increase trade and investment in Africa.
Kaplan told VOA that increasing business and economic development in Africa would benefit many Americans, which aligns with the promises of President Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” agenda.
“If we can export more and do more transactions here, do more investment here, that’s going to be incredibly helpful for the United States, for the people back home, because we’ll be making profitable ventures, and that will naturally help,” he said.
But the U.S. delegation also had a strong message for Kenya: Real, meaningful economic growth can’t happen unless Kenya commits to fighting corruption.
‘It’s got to stop’
“Corruption is undermining Kenya’s future,” said Robert Godec, U.S. ambassador to Kenya. “It’s clearly a major problem for the country. We welcome President Kenyatta’s commitment and the push recently to address this problem. Corruption is theft from the people, and it’s got to stop.”
In his speech to the delegation, Kenyatta pledged to “fight this animal called corruption and ensure that it is a beast that shall never infect or inflict future generations” of Kenyans.
Kaplan told VOA that the U.S. government was providing support and training to the Kenyan government to help tackle corruption.
“We’ve dealt with that — the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act, rule of law and international standards,” he said. “I think we can convince Kenya that following those rules is ultimately to their benefit because it brings more businessmen and women into the system and being able to be successful.”
Part of the objective of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is to make it illegal for companies and their supervisors to influence foreign officials with personal payments or rewards.
C.D. Glin, president and chief executive of the U.S. African Development Foundation, told VOA that the U.S. government’s and private sector’s support of businesses in Africa that had ramped up under the previous administration was being continued by Trump.
For instance, the President’s Advisory Council for Doing Business in Africa, begun under the Barack Obama administration and still in force, “really is looking at Africa from a business standpoint and from an opportunity standpoint so that Africans can benefit from U.S. support, but also can support the U.S.,” Glin said.
Nicholas Nesbitt, chairman of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance, said the increased U.S. private sector investment had been hugely beneficial for the Kenyan economy.
“We see a lot more tourism coming to Kenya, a lot more trade and a lot more business,” he said. “We’re very excited to see the numbers of American companies — small, midsize and even large corporations — looking at Kenya as a destination. It’s also a gateway to east Africa, where there are 200 million potential consumers. So, the investments, the energy, the excitement is absolutely tremendous today at this summit between American and Kenyan business.”
Six commercial deals between Kenyan and American companies were signed at the summit. Maxwell Okello, chief executive of the American Chamber of Commerce, Kenya, called that a sign that significant economic change would be driven by private sector innovation.
“I think at the end of the day, with what we’re hearing today here, it’s really down to what the private sector wants to do from a commercial engagement,” he said. “And I believe conversations such as this is really where you spark that interest, where you create those linkages and the sort of engagement that you need. And the opportunities are there for anyone. They’re obvious.
“So, I think that various policies aside, from a commercial business engagement perspective, the sky is wide open.”