Nairobi — When Capital Group Chairman Dr Chris Kirubi declined US President Barack Obama's invite to dinner in Dar-es-Salaam last year, he attracted both pats on the back and criticism for his stand but he is nothing if not one to speak his mind.
However, when the opportunity came for him to join the Kenyan delegation in Washington DC for the inaugural US-African Leaders Summit last week, he gladly went for the opportunity it presented to Kenya, he told Capital FM News.
"The messages that had been going out about Kenya were focused around Al Shabaab, terror attacks and Kenya being an unsafe investment destination. The summit was an opportunity for us to tell our own story, paint a true picture of Kenya as a competitive investment destination," he explained.
Still, he said, he did not regret his decision to turn down the earlier invitation. "It was an affront for Obama to come so close to Kenya, the headquarters of so many multi-nations including US companies and not cross the border."
But given one of the photos on his multiple-image screen saver is of him with his arm around Michelle Obama when she was a Senator's wife, with the much shorter Malia and Sasha at their feet, it appears the decision was not personal.
And the decision to make the most of the US-Africa Leaders Summit, he said, only made the most business sense "simply because we need America to play a role in our development. America is the largest economy in the world and you cannot wish it away. And we were very happy that we renewed our relationship."
A relationship Kirubi, who also accompanied President Uhuru Kenyatta on his trip to China last year, said is not threatened by Kenya's strengthening economic ties with China. "As I've repeatedly said, money has no colour."
America, Kirubi said, offered certain lucrative business opportunities starting with the large Kenyan Diaspora there, "We need to organise our Diaspora people. They are many there, they're very economically enabled and Kenya needs to link up with them to get them to play a major role investing in this country," he said echoing President Kenyatta.
Already research shows that the African Diaspora remits more to the continent than what is received in traditional Western aid.
Again as Presidential Spokesman Manoah Esipisu acknowledged prior to the US Summit, the Africa Growth and Opportunity (AGOA) Act, Kirubi said, also needs to be better exploited to grow Kenya's economy and create jobs. "With 15 years about to be given Kenya must decide how they're going to develop their textile industry," he said.
"While exports from Kenya to US have more than doubled in value over the ten-year period under the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA) the product range is still limited, with only 25 - 30 product lines exported out of the possible 6,400," Esipisu had said.
The development of the Kenyan textile industry, Kirubi said, needs to begin with the development of a local market for Kenyan textiles. "We must love what we produce locally and that way we can give a boost to investors who want to invest in this area but we cannot go on investing in textile only to export and our Kenyans thrive by wearing dead people's clothes that are imported. I hate them. I hate second hand clothes."
Second hand clothes might leave a bad taste in his mouth but the possibilities opened up by the US-Africa Leaders Summit do just the opposite, especially as relates to the energy sector where Kirubi has encouraged Kenyans to partner with the Americans in its generation.
"If we do not as Africans ourselves get involved it means foreigners will come here and basically enslave us for the rest of our lives because these projects are not short term," he underscored.
And the best way to avoid that, Kirubi concluded, is to empower its population with knowledge on how to take advantage of the economic growth opportunities presented by such engagements as the US-Africa Leaders Summit in addition to integration that would not only ease the movement of goods and services on the continent but consolidate its market base.