The ‘ground’ is different’ for investors

Saturday November 16 2019

Delegates follow proceedings during the Kenya-UK trade conference at Strathmore University in Nairobi on August 30, 2018. More European countries want to invest in Kenya. PHOTO | FILE | NATION MEDIA GROUP


Even in their seemingly most difficult moments, Kenyans will still never miss the opportunity to see the funny side of life and throw in some jokes in personal conversations.

In the current tough economic environment, the popular catchphrase around is, ‘Kwa ground vitu ni different’ (Sheng for ‘things aren’t what they seem in real life’).

The phrase is mostly used by regular people. But it captures the daily struggles of almost everyone in this economy – from the street vendor trying to sell her wares to broke office workers to the middle-class guy who has to choose between buying fuel for his car and paying house rent, and the corporate executive fighting to keep his company afloat amid shrinking revenues.

The ‘ground’ is equally tough for businesses constantly harassed by aggressive Kenya Revenue Authority (KRA) hounds and ruthless auctioneers.


More recently, the mood on the ground has been further dampened by the Treasury’s public admission that the government is so broke that it has resorted to budget cuts for various departments, including the Judiciary.


But perhaps the biggest contributor to the aura of gloom has been President Uhuru Kenyatta’s silence.

Other than passing comments like the one he made last week about reports that Kenyans are broke, Mr Kenyatta has hardly spoken about the economy in a manner that inspires public confidence.

He has failed to show Kenyans a ‘different ground’ from the prevailing toxic narrative that the country’s economy is on the verge of collapse.

Yet there are a lot of things to suggest that the country isn’t hopeless after all.

Last week alone, Kenya hosted trade missions from two European nations – Switzerland and Ireland – scouting for trade and investment opportunities.


Their arrival was just days after the American Chamber of Commerce and a German trade delegation came to Nairobi on a similar mission.

The Chinese, of course, long made Kenya home and aren’t about to leave.

Dr Ralf Heckner, the Swiss Ambassador to Kenya whose country sent a high-level delegation led by State Secretary for Economic Affairs Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch, compares the flurry of trade missions to a ‘beauty contest’ in which Kenya is spoilt for choice.

The Swiss team included representatives of dozens of companies wishing to put their money in different sectors of the economy in Kenya and create jobs for young people.

Dr Heckner says Swiss businesses, which previously had a preference for South Africa, have shown growing interest in Kenya in the past four years.

The implicit vote of confidence by Western and Chinese companies in an economy that is struggling should give the doomsayers pause.

Would these companies make a beeline for investments in a country they know to be a lost cause?

What is it about our country that the Swiss, the Irish, the Americans and the Germans are seeing that we aren’t seeing?

[email protected] @otienootieno