Jack Ma’s visit was ‘a good break from politics’

Questions abound on why Kenya gets too close to trouble during election years.

Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba Group, gives a public lecture on entrepreneurship at the University of Nairobi on July 20, 2017. His trip to Africa was fully sponsored by Unctad. PHOTO | ANDREW KILONZI | NATION MEDIA GROUP 


  • Former UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon appointed Jack Ma as a special envoy of Unctad.
  • Mr Ma was asked to share his knowledge on what makes some entrepreneurs succeed where others fail.


The first step in the journey to bring the richest man in China to Kenya was taken in September last year.

This was immediately after then UN secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon appointed Ma Yun, also known as Jack Ma, as a special envoy of the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (Unctad) on youth and small businesses.

READ: Jack Ma and the Wisdom of Ali Baba


Interestingly, his name had been proposed by Unctad secretary-general Mukhisa Kituyi.

“Part of the package was that Ma uses his strength as an inspirational leader and an exemplary entrepreneur to encourage young entrepreneurs strictly in developing countries with special focus on Africa,” Dr Kituyi said in an interview with the Saturday Nation.

READ: Don't shelve ideas for another day, Jack Ma says


Mr Ma was also asked to give insight on opportunities and share his knowledge on what makes some entrepreneurs succeed where others fail.

During his visit, he was also asked to meet youthful netpreneurs — the entrepreneurs who use the Internet for commerce.

The meeting was to take place in Kigali, Rwanda, over four days, one of which Unctad convinced President Paul Kagame to dedicate wholly to Unctad and its special envoy.

But just before Mr Ma could arrive in Kigali, Dr Kituyi arranged for a number of stops in Nairobi, including a meeting with young entrepreneurs at the heart of Nairobi innovation and to give a public lecture at the University of Nairobi.

During his stay in the country, Mr Ma also launched a Unctad product called Empretech for training women and young entrepreneurs.

He also spared some time to visit the Maasai Mara Game Reserve.

“I knew what Jack Ma was capable of long before I got him to Kenya,” Dr Kituyi said.

And just to measure the impact of Mr Ma’s visit, the e-commerce outlier was trending on social media for more than three days at a time the country is on the homestretch to the General Election.


“This was an important statement that beyond the political competition and heat of the moment, individuals in Kenya see the value of alternative measures, specifically inspiration on innovation,” Dr Kituyi said.


The former MP and Trade minister became Unctad’s seventh secretary-general on September 1, 2013.

Prior to his appointment, he had served as Trade minister for five years until 2007.

Before this, he had been elected to Parliament in 1992 and was twice re-elected.

Dr Kituyi wondered why, so many times, people asked if he would consider going back to politics.

He has a simple answer.

“Kenya is heading towards a General Election and the dynamics of this country’s politics in the next five years is going to be substantially grounded on what happens in these next few days.

"We can’t know what shape of things we will have after these elections.

"But to my mind, any enterprising person who is intelligent cannot start talking about where they will be in the next five years without taking stock of what will happen in the next few days,” he said.

So, basically, he is watching the political scene before announcing his next move.

However, he has a new mandate at Unctad, which will start on September 1 and end on August 31, 2021.

According to him, from where he sits in Geneva and New York, Kenya is well regarded, but there is also frustration on why the country is playing with fire.

Questions abound on why Kenya gets too close to trouble during election years, sometimes slowing down the flow of foreign direct investment into the country as well tourism.

His message to Kenyans is that they should embrace peace before and after the election for the sake of future generations.

“My countrymen and women did not let me down in having Ma visit the country at this particular time. It is my hope that Africa heeds the message,” he said.

Dr Kituyi said Mr Ma’s trip to Africa was fully sponsored by Unctad.

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