This week is a historic one for Nairobi and the whole of Kenya. The visit of an American President always creates a stir, from the corridors of government to the towns and streets. The fact that President Barack Obama’s father was born here means this visit carries a special significance. His ascension to a position of such profound global significance resonated with Kenyans across the whole nation.
For many, the inevitable security precautions put in place for the visit of any head of state often mean disruption for local businesses and residents. Some roads will be closed and diversions may cause congestion in particular areas of the city. The smooth running of Nairobi is ultimately my responsibility and the county government is doing all it can to ensure the entire weekend, including the hosting of the Sixth Global Entrepreneurship Summit, passes off with minimal disruption for Nairobians.
I also wish all our visitors from abroad a warm welcome. I am thrilled our capital city has been given the responsibility of hosting such an important event. The GES arrival here could not have been better timed.
I am sure President Obama’s visit will be greeted by enthusiasm by all in Nairobi, whether they are lucky enough to hear him speak in person, watch from afar on TV, or listen on the radio.
The support that Kenyans continue to show President Obama is not based on blind adoration of his power or prestige. Rather, because our heritage is also based on shared values – freedom, fairness and, most crucially, aspiration.
And that is why we must not forget why President Obama is visiting Kenya. Yes, his trip here is filled with symbolism. But it is also because he is here to attend the GES.
President Obama has personally driven this Summit forward since he took office, as he has boldly catapulted entrepreneurship to the forefront of his development agenda. Since 2009, the Summit has visited the likes of Istanbul and Kuala Lumpur. It is now Nairobi’s turn.
It is fitting that the GES has finally come to sub-Saharan Africa. Since the turn of this century, our continent has seen monumental change. Young and dynamic economies are emerging, access to technology has increased and education standards continue to climb. Nairobi is a fascinating window into this rapid and evolving landscape. The spread of hi-speed internet and mobile 3G, the rise of tech hubs and the huge interest of the global business community often make the city unrecognisable from what I saw as a child.
What will be discussed this week affects us all. Entrepreneurs play a fundamental role in nurturing young talent and offering opportunities and employment. There is no hiding from the fact that unemployment remains a major problem for millions of Kenyans. Urban areas such as Nairobi offer increasing opportunities, but the employment gap remains significant and troubling.
While throughout Africa huge strides have been made in education, access to jobs lags far behind. Kenya is teeming with educated and aspirational young people, who often find jobs scarce and prospects lacking.
Entrepreneurship is crucial to helping tackle this jobs deficit. We must empower young people to create their own job opportunities, not just for the benefit of single individuals, but to help create a more thriving, diverse and dynamic economy. From mobile money to the plethora of tech startups here in Nairobi, Kenya has shown enormous potential in nurturing the entrepreneurs and business leaders of tomorrow.
The young people I meet in Nairobi are not only ambitious, but display an enviable level of pragmatism and logic. These are fundamental qualities to entrepreneurs. As access to education and technology increase, it will be down to both government and the private sector to harness this reservoir of ambition amongst our youth. It is vital in ensuring both Kenya and Africa’s development story is not one of a one-dimensional resources bonanza but a historic shift to dynamic, innovative and trend-setting economies.
We are determined to lead the way in driving this innovation. I am proud of our US$2 million (Sh201 million) initiative to connect more than 2,000 schools in Nairobi to fixed internet. The children will flourish with access to digital learning tools. But this is just the beginning. This weekend should reignite the conversation of how we nurture this pool of untapped talent that often sits idle, not just in Nairobi but also across this nation.
So let’s take advantage of the opportunities this week’s visit and Summit present. President Obama symbolises a young man who used his talent and drive to make a real difference. Now is the time for those of us in government and our partners in the business sector to find the next stars of the future. They are certainly out there.
Dr Evans Kidero is the Governor of Nairobi City County.