President Uhuru Kenyatta on Friday evening hosted a unique group of visitors who are in the country to learn from his vision for the economic growth of Kenya and the wider African continent.
From 2015, the President and First Lady Margaret Kenyatta have regularly hosted at State House successive groups of students on mentorship under the Pupils Reward Scheme (PURES).
But unlike the secondary school students who are still in the early stages of education, last night’s visitors are the cream of the academic world.
They were a large group of top professors from one of the world’s most prestigious universities, Harvard, who were on a mission to sit down with the President and listen to his insights on a range of issues covering business and economic transformation.
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The team of scholars engaged the Head of State on topics ranging from what propels Kenya as a regional economic powerhouse, his Administration’s policies, Africa’s place in today’s changing world, what he worries most about and what he wants to be remembered for most among other subjects.
President Kenyatta sat down with the 35 professors from Harvard Business School, one of Harvard University’s prestigious graduate schools, shortly after flying back from Eldoret where he presided over the launch of the revamped Rivatex.
The professors led by Professor Srikant M. Datar, have already visited the Port of Mombasa and several industries in the coastal city, travelled by the SGR to Nairobi and also visited several companies in the capital city before meeting the President.
The Harvard professors, who were accompanied by one of their former students, Cabinet Secretary Adan Mohamed, were full of praise for the transformation Kenya is undergoing. Also at the meeting were Cabinet Secretary Joe Mucheru and Equity Bank CEO James Mwangi.
Prof Datar said that they travelled from the United States to learn from President Kenyatta’s insights, experience and to borrow lessons from his leadership.
“Kenya has shining examples and its economic goals are outstanding. It has unique stories that need to be told,” said Prof Datar.
“We have been impressed by the transformation happening in Kenya and appreciate learning from your leadership and vision,” he added.
The Head of State said Kenya was moving in the right direction of progress and his administration was aggressively implementing a transformative development agenda to create prosperity for all.
On the wider Africa agenda, the President told the professors that the continent was on the rise and his message to the world was that hope is abundant in every region.
He said most of the new economic opportunities presenting themselves today are in Africa even though the continent is usually depicted in a negative light.
“Despite the negative publicity, look beyond the covers because these days news travels faster than understanding. We are now working on the understanding part,” said the President.
He said the image presented of Africa is usually crafted to portray despair, incidents of conflict or diseases without a mention of the abundant success stories.
“They will not show you the success stories and the unsung heroes achieving change and progress,” said the President.
Asked about what worries him most, President Kenyatta said he is kept awake by concern for Kenya’s youth and the instability affecting some countries in the region.
“I am concerned about the instability in the region in countries like Somalia and South Sudan. I am more concerned about our youth and how to create hope for them so that they wake up looking to the future,” said the President.
Mr Anywhere Sikochi, Assistant Professor of Business Administration, asked the President what he wants to be remembered for and what he hopes for Kenya’s future.
“I want to do my best and I hope people will recognise that I did my best,” said the President, adding that he has laid down a strong foundation for Kenya’s transformation.
He said he has created greater openness, transparency and freedom of speech, adding that he wants Kenya’s future to be one where politics is based on agenda and not on tribe or religion.
The President said he is working on changing the country’s politics and that is one of the reasons why he is working with opposition leader and former Prime Minister Raila Odinga in creating unity through the Building Bridges Initiative.
“We do not talk politics or about the next election but we talk about how we can all pull together to chase away despair,” President Kenyatta said.
He said he wants the war against corruption that he has started to succeed as it will benefit Kenyans today and the future generations.
Speaking on the country’s economic policies, President Kenyatta said Kenya’s development agenda as envisioned in the Big 4 Agenda and Vision 2030 blends in with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), whose crafting Kenya played a big role.
“We feel very proud that Kenyans played a key role in formulating the SDGs and we are very committed to ensuring Kenya becomes a leader in the achievement of the SDG goals,” said the President.
President Kenyatta said Kenya’s biggest asset is its human capital and its Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) commonly referred to as the informal sector which is the backbone of the country’s economy.
“Business and entrepreneurship are ingrained in the Kenyan psyche whether it is the billionaire or the hawker. We are focusing on many initiatives targeted to improve the economic prosperity of the people,” said the President.
He cited initiatives such as creating more access to credit for SME’s, dedicated funds for youth, women and other disadvantaged groups, value addition for agricultural products among many more.
Answering a question on Kenya’s increased investments and start-up innovation firms, President Kenyatta Kenya said the government is focusing on addressing the cost of doing business and the business environment.
He said the Government has been expanding Kenya’s ports, constructing a modern rail network, new roads, increasing energy supply and addressing other infrastructural bottlenecks to improve competitiveness and spur economic growth.
The President said as he answered the question asked by Janice H. Hammond, Professor of Manufacturing, that Kenya is moving fast to improve the business climate and aims to join the top 50 globally.
Kenya has improved from position 136 in 2014 to position 61 last year according to world bank statistics.
He also mentioned the establishment of dedicated funds and programs to support innovation and technology for the youth.
The President said devolution was creating equality in the country by moving development to the grassroots. He said taking development to the grassroots is creating more economic opportunities and is providing alternative sources of income for Kenyans who have traditionally depended on land as their only capital.
The Harvard Business School has been seeking to prioritise Africa in its teaching, research and case writing.
The school offers the first MBA course that is entirely focused on Africa, titled “Africa Rising: Understanding Business, Entrepreneurship, and the Complexities of the Continent,”.
The meeting was also attended by Head of Public Service Dr Joseph Kinyua and Chief of Staff Nzioka Waita.