News 2008


Our Survival Kit From the Election Chaos

Business Daily (Nairobi)


15 February 2008

Moses Munene


The hero in Robinson Crusoe is faced with a challenge of how to survive after a tragic sea wreckage. He must figure how to keep alive while he hopes to be rescued. Fortunately Crusoe is able to salvage some useful survival items; some tools, guns, a little food and drink. Ironically, one item is of no value to Crusoe despite its abundance; a bounty of cash.

We could interpret Crusoe's survival kit as industry, security, sustenance and gains from commerce. All four are symbiotic; one depending on the others. For most businesses and indeed the country, the New Year is akin to Crusoe's shipwreck.

To survive we need to take stock of our survival kit; what will enable us pull through. Like Crusoe, our meagre kit can only last so long. We however still possess certain assets and potential that can be harnessed to surmount the challenges; but only if we act speedily.

We have a comparative advantage borne of our geographical location - Kilindini and a logistic choice route to Central Africa and Southern Sudan. Although our neighbours may capitalise on our hiatus from the trading scene, they face a steep learning curve while their new-found customers will have to contend with switching costs.

The sooner the clogging at the port is eased and a risk free conduit beyond Nairobi assured, a crucial part of our commercial jigsaw will haven fallen into place.

The proposed fibre optic connectivity could not come sooner; its slated completion date of 2009 seems such a distant future. Sign are good as EASSY secured the requisite financing of $71m. The impact of this on outsourcing businesses, growth of e-commerce and telecommunications will be immense.

EASSY and France Telcom's investment represent faith in our economy as they break new ground for a lucrative gap in the market. Kenya possesses human capital of regional note.

The World Business Magazine of last March lists our Catholic University, USIU and University of Nairobi School of Business among some of Africa's leading business schools.

Equally significant is Strathmore University's positioning as a premier institution represented on the Association of African Business Schools (AABS) governing body. Graduates from these varsities form a much needed middle and entrepreneurial class that will drive industry.

An oft - quoted statistic is our five per cent GDP achievements. This quantifies but our innate potential. Having "been there, done that", our experience in generating wealth from vibrant economic activities represents an experience curve albeit short lived, that would stand us in good stead.

However, this potential and experience needs a business-friendly environment devoid of security risks to thrive or else investors will relocate. The gesture by some insurers to cover assets damaged in the unrest will imbue enterprise with confidence.

Likewise, any gains our flagship product, tourism, are inextricably dependent on security. While we mire in politics, competitor tourist attraction in the Indian Ocean and southern Africa are enriching and entrenching their markets at our expense.

Undoubtedly, Kenya has received unparalleled benevolence from the international community. In comparison to other security trouble spots in Africa, the Congo, Rwanda, Darfur, Zimbabwe, Chad et a have not received the same affection, support and concern.

It is arguable this is based on Nairobi being the choice location of UN agencies while cynics may theorise that US interests stem from geopolitics and the crusade against terrorism.

Whatever the rationale, their goodwill has a use-by date and is crucial currency in our rehabilitation. It will be foolhardy of the political leadership to fail to grab the opportunity provided.

Unlike Mr Crusoe, our rescuers are already in town and we have a much larger kitbag than he had. Should we allow the opportunity to lapse, we might as well have a Darwinian view of our commerce.