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Columnists

Kenya has a key role to play in the global economy

Vehicles on the Southern Bypass in Nairobi.
Vehicles on the Southern Bypass in Nairobi. Kenya is undertaking key infrastructure projects. FILE PHOTO |NMG   

Kenya has long held a special place in hearts of people from around the world who have been drawn to its stunning scenery and its warm climate and people. Increasingly, it is also being recognised as a Silicon Savannah: a modern country that is attracting international businesses and enterprising workers, and adopting the technologies of the future.

All around Kenya today, innovative solutions are being applied to longstanding problems like insufficient sanitation, while building the infrastructure to accommodate a growing urban and middle class population that is more closely connected to the rest of the world.

Electricity is being generated from geothermal springs, technology is bringing mobile banking to large numbers of people, and small farmers are adopting more advanced methods to help them increase their yields and reach larger markets.

The Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) is a US government agency that invests in development around the world, including multiple investments in energy, agriculture, and infrastructure in Kenya.

We’ve supported a startup that is introducing portable toilets to convert waste to animal feed, a young business that is manufacturing durable, affordable cars designed specifically for Africa’s roads, and a high-tech enterprise that is helping Kenyans purchase goods and supplies from online retailers from around the world.

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When we look ahead to the challenges and the opportunities the world will face in coming years, it is clear that Kenya will have an important role to play in building a more connected and prosperous future. This week, as I travel to Kenya as part of my first official tour of Africa, I am reaffirming OPIC’s commitment to the continent with Connect Africa, a new OPIC initiative which aims to further integrate sub-Saharan Africa into the global trade market.

In addition to focusing investment on transportation infrastructure like roads, ports, and airports, Connect Africa will invest Sh100 billion ($1 billion) over the next three years in modern connectivity including telecommunications, technology, and value chains to help ensure more locally produced products can reach global markets.In fact, OPIC is seeking to support the Nairobi-Mombasa Expressway Project in co-ordination with American engineering firm Bechtel.

The project is critical to enhancing the strategic transportation infrastructure along the Nairobi-Mombasa corridor -- a major corridor of national and regional commerce and integration. As the US government’s development finance institution, OPIC understands that investment is as important as aid in creating jobs and promoting sustainable economic growth.

Our investments in Africa have helped build power plants, hospitals, and water treatment facilities, while providing small businesses and farmers the financial services needed to grow. More than one-quarter of our global $23 billion portfolio is invested in sub-Saharan Africa and we have a long and successful history in Kenya.

American businesses are eager to invest in Kenya and OPIC is eager to support them. OPIC’s Connect Africa initiative builds on a number of successful US government initiatives to mobilise private investment to address longstanding challenges like poverty, while also preparing communities to meet the challenges of the future.

Through our support of the five-year-old US Power Africa initiative, OPIC has committed more than $2.4 billion to 20 projects that will expand access to electricity.

More recently, OPIC launched the 2X women’s initiative to mobilize 100 billion Kenyan shillings ($1 billion) to projects to support the world’s women who are such a vital source of stability and economic growth in their communities.

And with Connect Africa, we’re looking forward to a future in which all of Africa is actively engaged in the global economy, contributing its goods and services, increasing productivity and competitiveness, and seeing the rewards. We are all more connected than ever before and Africa’s future success depends on it engaging with the world.

RAY W. WASHBURNE, President, Overseas Private Investment Corporation.

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