Management Consultant Mike Eldon

Building private sector, State ties

From left: Kenya Private Sector Alliance Outgoing chair Flora Mutahi, Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry President Dr Erick Ruto, Investments, Trade and Industry Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria and Kenya Private Sector Alliance newly elected Chairman Jaswinder Bedi during a panel discussion at Kenya Private Sector Alliance (KEPSA) 19th Annual General Meeting at Serena Hotel, Nairobi on June 15, 2023. PHOTO | BONFACE BOGITA | NMG

On June 15, I attended the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) AGM, where CEO Carole Kariuki and outgoing chair Flora Mutahi reeled off the activities and achievements of the previous 12 months.

As at previous AGMs, the sheer volume and variety were staggering to absorb – indeed two years ago I wrote a column about Kepsa’s 17th one, saying what an impressive event it was, and for the same reasons, commenting that a significant positive influence had been brought to bear on the wellbeing of not just the private sector but of Kenyans.

Jas Bedi was confirmed as Kepsa’s new chair, with Brenda Mbathi as deputy – two excellent choices. And I was delighted to see that at this year’s AGM, the newly-elected chair of the Chamber of Commerce Erick Rutto was with us.

He talked about the need for the two entities to work together, music to everyone’s ears.

Also present was Trade Cabinet Secretary Moses Kuria, who interacted with us for more than two hours.

“This meeting is seven months overdue,” he proclaimed, seeking an open, frank discussion that would enable his government to walk with us. The President would have been here today, he added, had it not been for his trip to Geneva.

“I’ve been to 27 countries and met with 14 presidents since coming into office,” he informed us, saying he wanted to see more of us in the room when he travels overseas.

Mr Kuria claimed the private sector is insufficiently focused on working for the country rather than for ourselves personally, our company or our sector — maybe not fully on-target for this Kepsa audience, for whom in my experience national wellbeing figures prominently.

His next challenge was to get us to think big, before hammering us for not spreading into enough foreign countries. “We are swimming pool champions in our own bathtubs,” he scoffed. Hmm, my sense is that more and more Kenyan companies are indeed going Africa-wide.

He then talked about setting up many more Special Economic Zones, and through public-private operations that benefit from a zero corporate tax.

These, he fully expects to generate a million jobs and asked how we will make his work easier. His ultimate goal?

To have Singapore come and benchmark with us. Indeed, while we used to go to Ethiopia to benchmark Special Economic Zones, recently an Ethiopian delegation came to Kenya to see how ours are developing, he tells us.

Mr Kuria expects to see SEZs in each of our 47 counties, and this by sharing the funding for their establishment between the national and the county governments.

To date, despite all their financial constraints, 14 counties have contributed – seven from pro-government ones and seven from those led by the opposition.

He is also promoting Kenya to take the leadership in Africa for spreading digitisation. Through the American Chamber he’s been bringing together US tech firms such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft, and Meta, he related, encouraging them with preferential tax rates.

His next point, which he asked Jas to also elaborate on — largely in his capacity as chair of Keproba, the Brand Kenya and export promotion entity — was about the facilitation of exports.

This is through establishing “logistical infrastructure”, an initial 20 warehouses around Africa, and eventually 50 globally.

The Kenya International Trade Agency (Kita), is being formed, and it will hold the master leases for the warehouses, with exporters taking out sub-leases. Exporters will be allowed to share container space for shipping their goods.

By 2030, Jas told us, the objective is that the value of our exports should be equal to the value of our imports. And Mr Kuria explained that the commercial offices within our embassies will now be situated outside of them, selling locally on behalf of our exporters.

How will this be financed? By taxing imports, thereby making imports more expensive and enabling local value-adding manufacturing.

The CS concluded that he looks forward to working with Kepsa and the Chamber.

What an uplifting morning it was, far away from all the Kuria noise we’ve been exposed to since!