E. Africa Business & Entrepreneurship Conference

East Africa Business & Entrepreneurship – A Commitment to Deepening Economic Partnership

by U.S. Ambassador to Kenya Robert F. Godec

-As Prepared-

Waheshimiwa, mabibi na mabwana, hamjambo!

It’s wonderful to be here with you. Thank you to the East Africa Business Council, the East African Community, and the Government of Kenya for the kind invitation.  Your participation in this conference is a testament to your commitment to deepen economic partnership, regionally and internationally.

I am also pleased to see so many innovators and entrepreneurs.  President Obama said it best during his remarks at the Global Entrepreneurship Summit last year here in Kenya:

“Entrepreneurs embody a spirit that we need to take on some of the biggest challenges that we face in the world — the spirit of entrepreneurship, the idea that there are no limits to the human imagination; that ingenuity can overcome what is and create what needs to be … make[s] life better for all of us.”

Entrepreneurship, innovation, and investment are critical to the future of Kenya and East Africa.  And, the U.S. government is working to help with each of them.

When President Obama launched Trade Africa, the U.S. government’s program to build trade capacity across the continent, he recognized “Africa [as] the world’s next major economic success story” and emphasized the United States’ commitment to be a partner in that success.  Much of the groundwork of that partnership has been laid, through initiatives such as the Global Entrepreneurship Summit, the recent 10-year extension of the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA), and assistance initiatives that support private sector trade and development, including the Feed the Future and Power Africa programs.  This week’s conference is an essential part of the follow-up on that journey to success.  Together we are building a legacy of African entrepreneurship that is central to integration, regional economic growth, and social inclusion.

The United States and our EAC partners recognize that entrepreneurs cannot do it alone.  Those of us in government must create a conducive and enabling environment that allows innovators to bring their ideas to life.  To this end, the United States has invested in over 1,000 initiatives focused on promoting entrepreneurship globally.  Many of these programs are focused on generating opportunities for women and youth, and increasing access to capital for entrepreneurs.  Here in East Africa, we have seen real results from a number of new – and what we hope are game-changing – programs.

Earlier this year, for instance, we launched the WECREATE|Kenya Women’s Entrepreneurship Center, fulfilling a promise President Obama made during his visit. The center has now provided over 1,300 Kenyan women with training and mentoring to help start or grow their businesses.  The Startup Academy at the WECREATE center, which is an intense 15-week program to strengthen revenue-generating potential of new women-owned businesses–– just graduated its second class and is in the process of selecting members for its third cohort.

We have collaborated with the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP) to expand the capacity of women-owned businesses to export to the United States.  In fact, WECREATE and AWEP are now cooperating on a program to provide training to ramp up the capacity of women-owned firms to export under AGOA.  AWEP also helps empower victims of gender-based violence through entrepreneurship training.

We also launched the second phase of the USAID’s Feed the Future Kenya Innovation Engine, a project that identifies, fosters, and works to scale up innovative and market-based agricultural businesses to address persistent food insecurity problems.  This project has already funded 18 Kenyan startups focused on accelerating growth and reducing poverty.  Three of the top innovators to come out of the program are here this week.  I hope you will take the opportunity to visit them in the Innovation Engine booth that is part of the conference’s exhibition showcase.

Among other priorities, President Obama’s Trade Africa initiative set a goal of increasing AGOA exports from East Africa by 40 percent, and bringing $100 million in U.S. and other investments to East Africa in sectors critical to growing intra-regional and export trade.  USAID’s East Africa Trade and Investment Hub is focused on delivering against these targets, with the result of promoting entrepreneurship through these increased trade and investment efforts.

On the AGOA targets, the Hub has been working with government ministries and agencies in Rwanda, Tanzania, Uganda, and Madagascar to develop national strategies that prioritize actions needed to better take advantage of AGOA. In Kenya, these efforts are focused on updating government’s existing strategy.  The Hub has also been helping companies across East Africa to improve their products, access market information, and better connect with U.S. buyers.  In the last two years, this support has helped the region’s exporting companies to increase AGOA exports to the U.S. to over $1.1 billion, of which over $114 million came from Hub-supported firms.

Regarding the investment goals, the Hub has leveraged $26.3 million dollars in new private capital investments in the region, in sectors such as agriculture, mobile services, and logistics. They have another $225 million dollars’ worth of deals in the investment pipeline. The Hub further plays an investment promotion role by building the capacity of East Africa’s Investment Promotion Agencies (IPAs) to showcase and attract their own investment capital.  Increased access to such investment capital is a major driver of growth and job creation.  As you are hopefully aware from visiting their booths, five regional IPAs from across the EAC are here at the Conference to present their portfolios.  They have collectively come prepared with at least ten investment-ready deals as well as other long-term opportunities. If you haven’t already, I hope you will stop by to see them.

Another key U.S. resource to help meet these ambitious investment goals is the Overseas Private Investment Corporation, or OPIC. I am pleased to report that OPIC has recently established a presence here in Kenya to better serve the region. Our new resident advisor, Suresh Samuel, will be speaking on a panel later today. He is charged with actively seeking to facilitate American investments in sectors such as energy, infrastructure, agriculture, and water.  I hope you will learn more about OPIC’s investment mandate and the opportunities their presence offers for regional businesses.

OPIC’s commitment to financing power is particularly important to enterprises for whom access to affordable, reliable, and sustainable energy is just as important as access to investment capital.  The U.S.’ Power Africa program aims to create 60 million new electricity connections and generate 30,000 megawatts of new and cleaner power in sub-Saharan Africa.  Last month, during the U.S.-Africa Business Forum in New York, the U.S. Trade and Development Agency launched its largest, single investment in Kenya’s power sector to date, signing grant agreements for six projects that will use U.S. solutions to increase access to electricity across Kenya and help diversify the country’s energy mix.  If you want to track the Power Africa deals in the region, “there’s an app for that” – look for the Power Africa app in the Apple Store.

With all these partnership tools and commitments in place, this conference and exhibition are more than a tribute to the entrepreneurial spirit that unites our great cultures – it’s a place where real business happens.  Network!  Explore!  Brainstorm!  Partner!  Link up and link in!  Find investors and start closing the deals on those transformative transactions that will grow jobs, promote integration, advance technology, and make this region, and our world, a better place for ourselves and , most importantly, for our children. Let’s all work together to seize this extraordinary moment.

Pamoja tusonge mbele.  Asanteni sana.