(Minute of silence to remember the victims of the Mandera bus attack.)
Distinguished guests; ladies and gentlemen; good evening.
It is a pleasure to join you for the annual American Chamber of Commerce Kenya Thanksgiving Ball.
Thanksgiving is, of course, a very special day for all Americans. Its origins go back to the Plymouth settlers, who held a harvest feast in 1621 after a successful growing season. In 1789, President George Washington proclaimed the first national Thanksgiving Day, setting Thursday, November 26, as a day of “public thanksgiving and prayer.”
President Abraham Lincoln took the next step in 1863 inviting “my fellow citizens in every part of the United States, and also those who are at sea and those who are sojourning in foreign lands, to set apart and observe the last Thursday of November next, as a day of Thanksgiving.” With that, America’s day of thanksgiving became part of our national heritage. Over the years, Thanksgiving has taken many forms but it was and is a day to be together with family and friends. It is a day to express gratitude for all that is good in our lives. It is a day to stop, reflect, and count our many blessings.
As we approach Thanksgiving once again, and I think back on the past year here in Kenya, there is certainly much to be grateful for. Kenya is a beautiful country that continues to make progress on many fronts. And, as U.S. Ambassador to Kenya, as I reflect on the arc of U.S.-Kenyan relations, I am grateful for the progress we continue to make, including, of course, on our economic and commercial ties.
This past August, President Obama hosted the first U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit in Washington, D.C. It was the largest engagement any American president has had with African leaders, and Kenya’s delegation, led by President Uhuru Kenyatta, was one of the largest and busiest. President Obama’s message at the Summit was clear: the United States wants a new model of partnership with Africa. A partnership of equals. A partnership based on shared values and interests, and on mutual respect. And the Summit was not just talk. There were real outcomes, real deals, and real progress.
On first day of the Summit, the U.S.-Africa Business Forum, organized by the U.S. Commerce Department, brought together hundreds of American and African CEOs with heads of state to spur discussions on increasing trade and investment. As one Kenyan business executive observed, the talk did not focus on whether U.S. companies wanted to invest in Africa, but instead on when and where.
One outcome of the Business Forum was the creation of President Obama’s Advisory Council on Doing Business in Africa. The Council offers a gateway for high-level U.S. business leaders to advise the Administration on how to expand trade between the United States and Africa. Also as a result of the Summit, just a few days ago I launched the new East Africa Trade and Investment Hub based here in Kenya and committed $65 million to support its work. The hub will deepen the commercial ties between the United States and East Africa. The choice of Nairobi as the home of the hub is a mark of our confidence in Kenya.
The timing for the U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit could not have been better. Trade between the United States and Kenya continues to grow, as do investments in the region. This year, Kenya Airways leveraged Ex-Im Bank funding, allowing them to take delivery of several Boeing 787 Dreamliners. In June, the U.S. government’s Overseas Private Investment Corporation approved a $250-million loan for the Lake Turkana Wind Power Project, which will be the largest wind project in Africa and will help Kenya increase the production of clean, green power.
Small and midsize American companies are also looking to export to Kenya, offering equipment and essential services. From an American architectural firm promoting campus design services to Kenyan universities, to a financial firm seeking to expand its presence in the region, there are many examples of American companies that have reached out to us to talk about their interest in Kenya. U.S. franchises continue to expand in the country as well. Recently, I participated in the ribbon-cutting for the first Domino’s Pizza and Cold Stone Creamery in Nairobi. These two American icons have now joined the growing number of firms making their products available in Kenya.
We are also seeing a surge in trade missions and shows. In September, the PMMI Packaging Association organized a trade fair in Nairobi, leading a delegation of nearly a dozen U.S. businesses to Kenya. This was the organization’s first foray into Africa. In October, an East Africa Oil and Gas Show took place at the Kenyatta International Conference Centre.
And there is more to come. In December, the Corporate Council on Africa will lead a trade mission to Kenya and the region to explore business opportunities. In June and September of next year, the Commerce Department will lead two trade missions to Kenya, bringing dozens of U.S. companies here to see the opportunities first hand and meet with African businessmen and women.
As the American Chamber of Commerce, you are at the heart of the growing business ties between our two great countries. You are a critical part of the strong bond and connection we have with Kenya.
As I have said before, American firms represent the “gold standard” around the world when it comes to the quality of products, reliability of service, and development of staff. You set the standard in labor practices and for assisting local communities through your Corporate Social Responsibility programs. You bring innovative products and services to markets across the globe. You embody the goals outlined by President Thomas Jefferson in his inaugural speech of “Peace, commerce, and honest friendship with all nations…”
In the coming year, I look forward to even more interaction with the Chamber and to leveraging the momentum from this year’s U.S.-Africa Leaders’ Summit. Your investments, your trade, your work are helping Kenya to transform its economy. You are creating jobs and bringing new technology. In so doing, you are helping to take our relations to a new level.
So, let me end by saying thank you. I am deeply grateful for all that you do to support and strengthen U.S.-Kenyan relations and to deepen economic and commercial ties.
Together, we are helping Kenyans and Americans build a better life. Pamoja tusonge mbele.