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Africa’s leadership ‘has failed the poor’
Posted Thu, 03 Mar 2005

Sitting in his office in Nairobi, leading Kenyan entrepreneur, Chris Kirubi (pictured left), seems as far removed from the daily afflictions of Kenyans as can be. But Mr Kirubi is not oblivious of the problems surrounding him. One of his major worries is the extent of poverty in Kenya and the rest of Africa. By Patrick Mwangi

Poverty is the biggest challenge faced by Africa after HIV/AIDS, but the continent’s leadership is too obsessed with building its own wealth instead of looking after the needs of its people, says Mr Chris Kirubi.

In Kenya, an estimated 50% of the population live below the poverty line. Unless Africans are careful, poverty will become a typhoon sweeping all before it, he warns.

Mr Kirubi should know what he’s talking about. He has been investing in Africa for the last 20 years. He has business interests ranging from property management, insurance, courier services, advertising and investment funds. He chairs the boards of DHL Worldwide Express East Africa, Haco Industries Ltd and Nairobi Bottlers Limited.

He is also a major investor in, and sits on the boards of, ICDC Investment Company, Bayer East Africa and Beverage Services, amongst others.

There is no doubt that Mr Kirubi thrives on being controversial. But he strikes a chord with many when he rails against Africa’s leadership as being the continent’s greatest threat. He decries the fact that Africa continues to beg and wallow in poverty when there is so much potential.

The continent is richly endowed with resources, but is faced with a dearth of focused and committed leadership that is determined to work for their people rather than for themselves.

With poverty reduction demanding a multi-level approach, leadership is the key to turning around the current situation. Africans need to rise up and take the leadership challenge. For now, says Mr Kirubi, leadership is the missing link.

“Africa needs people willing to challenge these leaders without being seen to be seeking to be one of them,” says Mr Kirubi.

So why does he continue investing in Africa? “Africa can only be saved by its own people. It is our duty to stay in Africa and struggle to turn it around. If we give up on our continent, whom do we expect to develop it for us?” he asks. Africa has a lot of potential to do better. We already have case examples of African countries which have turned around their economies, such as Ghana and Mauritius.

Mr Kirubi cites as “important” efforts that have been put together such as the New Partnership for African Development (NEPAD), COMESA, SADC, EAC, ECOWAS, which are all aimed at linking up and removing trade barriers within the continent.

Capital flight and brain drain are two more obstacles to the development of the continent. Mr Kirubi acknowledges that Africa’s people are its greatest wealth, but says there seems no strategy to utilise it. Instead, a lot of people educated in Africa using African resources go out to help build economies of other countries.

“Why is this? We Africans do not appreciate our own people. We need to recognise the talents that African people have and invest in them,” he states.

Mr Kirubi would also like to see African research and development institutions playing a key role in the development of the continent, as well as developing information technology infrastructure to enable Africans communicate better with each other and with the rest of the world. “These are the issues that we need to focus on and address seriously”.

This brings him back to the role of African leaders and how they weaken the continent. Many political leaders have failed to create confidence in their countries to attract foreign investments and develop the continent, he says. Worse, they create an even bigger challenge of capital flight from the continent because they are active participants in spiriting away the continent’s resources to stash in foreign countries. Domestic investment is also vital.

“We produce goods and services that are of good quality to compete in both the regional and international markets, so domestic investment should be encouraged,” says Mr Kirubi.

Leaders must also understand that Africa is in competition with the rest of the world. Consequently, Africa’s leaders must strive to make the continent competitive, asserts Mr. Kirubi. This should include improved infrastructure, research and development and Information Technology.

The current situation seems to have sapped the continent of its confidence and self belief. Says Mr Kirubi: “We seem to have accepted we cannot do anything on our own, and look for donors to sponsor even our own economic forums. We have lost the capacity to be economically independent.

“All these things are in our hands to change, and we must make sure development in Africa is not hindered by personalised issues and self-centered leadership that will have no vision. We have to keep pushing.”

Amongst his other many functions as a philantropist and businessman, Mr Kirubi is also the Ghanaian Honorary Consul General in Kenya. He represents the interests of the Ghana government in the country. He’s also serves the country’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) and Habitat, and sits on the Ghana Investors’ Council.

Mr Kirubi’s most recent investment is in one of the leading radio stations in Kenya, 98.4 Capital FM. “Media is power,” he notes.” He wants to use that power to reach out to society through music and entertainment. He also wants to give a forum for young people to engage in economic issues and develop leadership.

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