Woman presenting at 2024 AmCham summit in Nairobi

Is Kenya Africa’s South Korea?

“Kenya is open for business”, said its President Ruto at AmCham’s 2024 Business Summit in Nairobi yesterday, which it was my privilege to attend.  But is the country on the verge of becoming Africa’s ‘Savannah Glen’ or its ‘Singapore’, two metaphors repeatedly referenced over the last two days at one of the Continent’s most important business gatherings? 

And, this year, the Summit was also attended by US Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo – choosing Kenya as her first visit to Africa since assuming office – ahead of the President’s state visit to Washington next month, the first African leader to be so honoured since 2008. Clearly, something is happening in Kenya’s economy – but what is it ?

There is no question that Kenya is poised for take-off, becoming a progressively more attractive destination for FDI.  A staggering 93% of the country’s electricity is supplied from renewable sources, which will prove a game changer for corporates looking to reduce their scope two and three emissions.  This alone will power the country to attract the huge datacentre investments to be made in Sub-Saharan Africa to support digitisation and AI, particularly if existing transmission issues are addressed. 

With 50% of the population under 20 and an excellent education system, Kenya boasts a huge pool of skilled and agile young people that work hard and want to succeed.  But the Summit also featured animated discussions about the digital revolution and its harnessing by local players, who stand at the forefront of global innovation. Local representatives from the likes of M-Pesa were joined at the Summit by leading international players including Google, Microsoft and Cisco. 

All of this economic and technological promise is underpinned by Kenya’s enviable location – which makes the country a credible gateway to Africa, with a political settlement that sees the rule of law firmly established and democratic processes functioning well (as demonstrated by the smooth transition to power of President Ruto himself).

The Government is committed to establishing Kenya as a middle-income country over the next decade, which will involve driving GDP growth of over 6% per annum.  Whilst this is not yet being achieved, Kenya is one of the fastest growing economies in Africa.  There persist some bottle necks in delivering higher growth – particularly with byzantine regulatory processes, weak infrastructure and corruption slowing business development.  But the new Government appears to have the energy and commitment to address these systemic problems.  If Kenya can build a world class business-friendly environment, then there is no question that the country’s enormous potential will be fulfilled. 

Crucially, the narrative around Africa has changed from discussions of instability, conflict, poverty and disease to a conversation around the opportunities that renewables, youth and market scale offer.  And if you want to be in Africa, you have to be in Kenya.

So, Africa’s ‘Silicon Savannah’ or its ‘Singapore’?  I will go for being its ‘South Korea’.

Andrew Hayes
Managing Partner