The Star (Nairobi)

10 August 2014

Kenya: What African Leaders Could Learn From America

opinion

This week, African leaders hobnobbed with US President Barrack Obama. Of course, there is the usual lecture on good governance and corruption, which sometimes is hypocritical, given that the United States never engages in the same kind of lectures with Saudi Arabia.

Indeed, numerous studies and books have shown that the American government, or CIA to be precise, has been behind some of the major coups in Africa as in the rest of the developing world. The CIA for example, is believed to be behind the overthrow of Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah as well as the assassination of DR Congo's Patrice Lumumba.

And yet, while I have many misgivings about the American government, I still have profound respect for the American people, and what they have managed to achieve, despite obvious flaws such as inequality and racism.

The first lesson I would like African leaders to learn is to ensure that opportunities are available to all and sundry, regardless of where they come from. While Hollywood has no doubt exaggerated the extent of prosperity in America and much of the Western world, the fact is that the world's best and brightest still long to head to America, some for studies, while for many, permanently.

A close friend just got accepted to a one-year programme me by the elite Brown University, and one should see the sense of optimism that he has, knowing that numerous opportunities are going to open up after that.

Nowhere is the sense of achievement greater than in the business world, where bright and exceptional individuals can, and do often, start businesses from their garages, and see their businesses become global, courtesy of being supported by venture capital funds. In my interaction with many aspiring Kenyan entrepreneurs, the mood is often one of struggle, survival, and discouragements.

That is why I often have profound respect for local entrepreneurs, who have started from scratch and made it big. Still, the world has changed since the days when America could unilaterally run the world.

It is now multi-polar, and America will have to find its place in this new order. Even then, America is still a big pivot for the world and one that cannot be ignored, even with the advent of China.

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