Mr Scott Gration was one of the earliest supporters of Barack Obama’s bid for the American presidency. A retired major general, Mr Gration served as Special Assistant to the President at the White House and as ambassador to Kenya. He spent his childhood in eastern Africa, learned Kiswahili, and spent years in Kenya as a professional military officer and diplomat. He now serves as executive chairman of Champion Afrik Limited and its group of companies. He offered perspectives to the Sunday Nation about President Obama’s historic visit.
On the importance of the visit in shaping US-Kenya and US-Africa relations
I believe President Obama’s visit to Kenya is critical to resetting the US-Kenya relationship.
While the historical ties between the two countries have continued to be very strong with aligned shared values and mutual objectives, the 2008 post-election violence and subsequent International Criminal Court indictments resulted in a slight diplomatic chill.
The United States is still deeply concerned about protecting human rights and preventing ethnic-based violence.
However, President Obama’s visit sends the warm message that the United States is working closely with Kenya to build a brighter economic future for this country and the entire continent. I believe we are witnessing a change in the international community’s engagement with Africa.
President Obama’s focus on entrepreneurs continues the positive shift from historical political-military relationships in Africa to a new series of economic-centric associations on the continent.
To be truly successful, his visit must translate into substantial results that are sustained beyond the visit itself.
Like our company (Champion Afrik) is doing, US investments must focus on real-time economic development in marginalised areas to improve living and working conditions, to increase irrigation in semi-arid areas, to develop mini-grids to electrify rural communities, and to improve the logistics infrastructure.
President Obama’s visit to Kenya is one more important step in America’s changing economic priorities in Africa.
On the Global Entrepreneurship Summit and Kenya’s place in the world
I am very bullish about Kenya and I’m excited about this country’s future. The economic fundamentals are strong and Kenya is moving in a positive direction. While it’s important that President Obama and President Kenyatta headline the upcoming Global Entrepreneurship Summit, interesting discussions about innovative ideas are not enoughÂ¦ Africans need tangible economic opportunities and more real jobs.
Kenya is rich in natural resources and blessed with a superb geographical location and expanding infrastructure. The Kenyan people are a treasured asset – they are an educated and motivated work force; they are tolerant of religious and cultural diversity; and they are comfortable speaking English, using mobile banking, and absorbing new technologies.
I’m banking on Kenya’s human resources to drive our large-scale agriculture, medical tourism, mining, manufacturing and value-added processing, healthcare, and infrastructure development programmes. Kenya’s natural and human resources make me confident its economic growth will reach double-digit levels in the near future.
On measures needed to improve the business environment in Kenya
Smart investors see the economic potential of Kenya and its neighbours. Compared to the historical magnets for international investment in Africa, Kenya is emerging as a bright spot for exciting economic partnerships on the continent.
American companies wishing to be part of the African growth story now view Kenya as a highly attractive partner with enormous potential. This perception also informed my decision to start a company in East Africa.
Kenya is Africa’s new front door and a logical base of operations for a corporation wanting to work in Africa. While we continue to face challenges with security, bureaucracy, and corruption, I’m confident that these can be tackled with greater transparency brought about by increased computerisation of records and services, e-procurement for large-scale purchases, tax reforms, and streamlined bureaucracy.
In addition, we can accelerate growth by creating economic superzones, encouraging manufacturing, investing in commercial agriculture and increasing areas under cultivation, bringing in new technology to hugely increase productivity, improving infrastructure, and by publicly rewarding efficiency and merit.
I’m pleased and proud to be part of building Kenya’s bright economic future by aggressively participating in these key initiatives. I enthusiastically welcome my American friends to join our company in Kenya.
On thorny subjects such as corruption which are expected to feature in talks as they did in 2006 when then Senator Obama assailed corrupt leaders during a trip in which Mr Gration accompanied Mr Obama
Yes, I was there when then Senator Obama said Kenya would never find its true economic potential unless the nation abandoned its entrenched government corruption and deep-seated tradition of tribal politics.
I heard him challenge his listeners to reject the assumption that corruption is part of Kenyan culture and to stand up and speak out against injustices.
I listened as he recommended the Kenya government pass laws and regulations to prevent individual bureaucrats from twisting the rules to suit their own desires.
Almost a decade later, President Kenyatta has demonstrated strong and bold leadership to reduce corruption, to govern with national priorities rather than an ethnic agenda, and to develop Kenya’s true economic potential.
There is no need to worry about a delicate national dilemma on this visit; I believe presidents Kenyatta and Obama are in total agreement on fighting corruption, promoting regional economic growth, and creating jobs.
On the security challenges in the region and Al-Shabaab
Acts of terror can take place anywhere and at any time.
Terrorists have struck targets across the globe – in the US, the United Kingdom, France, Spain, Tunisia, Kuwait, Kenya, and many more. No country is immune from these cowardly attacks.
Therefore, the international community and all Kenyans must work together to protect our national infrastructure and institutions, and to minimise threats and risks to our communities, personnel, and property.
In addition to supporting the Government of Kenya’s direct efforts to increase safety and improve security, we must continue to counter religious fanaticism and ideological extremism by developing a vibrant economy that reaches to the chronically underemployed, those living in poverty and squalor, and those who have been historically marginalised.
Innovative agricultural techniques that enhance commercial farming on large areas of currently unproductive land will significantly improve food security and will put high-value wholesale and retail products into local and overseas markets. It is this economic delivery that will help Kenyans root out the scourges of crime, corruption, and terrorism.
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