Seeing as I’m not in the land of my birth, I thought it would make little sense for me to continue mouthing off about the state of the business environment in Kenya, especially as I’m not doing anything there right now. What I can do, on the other hand, is try to find out potential foreign investors feel about doing business in Kenya.
My first port of call was to the UK government’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO) website. It turns out that there is a separate section, linked to what used to be called the Department of Trade and Industry, that offers advice to British businesses thinking of trading internationally. UK Trade and Investment (UKTI) has a series of pages on Kenya, none of which seemed overly critical. I do have to wag my finger at the UK government in one instance, however, as most of the information they give seems to be geared towards British exporters, rather than truly bilateral trade. If I were a potential investor, however, I would feel relatively confident about making further enquiries about setting up a Kenyan outpost.
The UKIT website also provides links to Kenya’s very own Ministry of Industrialization. Look, I know that we’re a bit late coming to the internet party, but can whoever placed the government’s web designers in a time machine set to 1997 please reconsider? It doesn’t make us look good. Also unhelpful to potential investors: the lame document download page that you have to read fairly closely to find any information that might be useful.
Luckily, for investors with the presenece of mind to track it down, a much better website for information is the Kenya Investment Authority, which provides all sorts of information, including a step-by-step guide on setting up a business in the country. If I were part of the trade mission at Kenya’s London embassy, I’d be phoning up my opposite number at the FCO and asking them to change the links on Kenya’s pages to the KIA rather than the Department of Industrialization. While it is important to remember that the KIA will be inherently biased, once again the information is useful and the tone is upbeat throughout.
In the interests of balance, I also thought I’d check out the US State Department, to see if our Obama bonus has bled through yet (hey, it’s been six months). Well, I tried, but it was a Sunday afternoon, I had enjoyed a large barbecue lunch and a glass (or two) of wine, and I couldn’t face the trauma of the US Commercial Service website. On any other day, I am a research hound, but confronted with multiple PDFs as separate chapters of their Kenya Country Commercial Guide, my willpower deserted me, and I decided to catch up with my forums instead. I console myself with the fact that the country guide is published at all, and that it is apparently updated frequently. Once again, I couldn’t find any overtly discouraging information, and from what I can tell, the Amercians also think that Kenya is a viable investment prospect.
Now, this is only two countries, but overall I found that their governments at least seemed to encourage investment in Kenya, and don’t seem to have anything bad to say about doing business in our country. The UK government in particular seems very keen on helping British buinesses out where it can providing all manner of support and advice for businesses and entrepreneurs. While official government websites are relatively slack on the issue, whoever is running the KIA website seems to have its finger on the pusle and appears to be doing its best to make the prospect of investing in Kenya an appealing one. While I can’t say this is true of all countries, looking at the UK and USA apears to indicate that Kenya is in a good position to take advantage of increased trade when the global economy recovers. It is essential however, that in addition to our own efforts, there is a coherent government effort to attract investors and to make them feel welcome. And for anyone thinking of a career change, becoming a local agent for those international investors doesn’t seem like a bad idea.
[Image by ChuckP]