I have just returned from a visit to our Nairobi office. It was a good time to test the water with Presidential elections imminent on 9th August 2022 accompanied by polls for the National Assembly and Senate as well as County Governors. There are headwinds with high youth unemployment, the cost of living crisis and continued lack of trust by many in the country’s institutions. But there is also much to be positive about looking to the longer term.
I was privileged to be able to meet with Sakaja Johnson, who is running to be Governor of Nairobi which represents about a third of the country’s GDP. So a pivotal contest. Putting aside the cut and thrust of politics, Sakaja made a compelling case that Nairobi could emerge as Africa’s financial and business centre over the coming decades. Not only is it blessed with a warm and temperate climate, but also its location offers easy access across the continent. It is already the regional hub for international businesses, and many of the world’s leading NGOs including the United Nations have chosen Nairobi as their Africa base. Although corruption remains a major challenge, legal due process does operate more effectively than in most African countries and there is a real commitment to make the country the most business friendly in Africa. Sakaja talked about many areas that needed to be addressed, with a modern transit system being essential in his view both for the dignity of the city’s citizens but also to ensure the city can properly modernise and cut carbon emissions. He seems to mean business and, at only 37 years, has a lifetime to make it happen.
Of course there is a fear that the elections could deteriorate into communal violence, if the results are not seen to be fair and transparent. But the commentators I met stressed that the language being deployed is more measured than in previous elections. Moreover, there are signs that many Kenyans are slowly moving away from tribal loyalties to voting on the basis of policies. The reframe that these are elections are more ‘class based’ than any before was widespread, for better or worse. A free and vibrant media are reporting and scrutinising the whole process, freely and without censorship.
And Kenya’s educational system has been consistently rated as one of the most effective on the continent by the World Economic Forum often coming top for outcomes year in, year out. The country boasts 48 universities with now over one in ten taking a degree. And this huge progress is reflected in the development of a highly talented professional class driving innovation across the country. I was lucky to be able to visit Twiga Foods, a world class technology business connecting farmers and small shop keepers via a mobile app and a world class logistics operation. Well on its way to being East Africa’s first Unicorn, Twiga is a great example of the innovation local entrepreneurs are bringing to solving the most intractable of Africa’s problems.
Our local office is now two years old, with a great team recruited from across the country as well as colleagues re-locating from our international offices including London. I came back even more enthused about the potential for Hudson Sandler, as we work to help make Nairobi the global hub it surely must become.