This weekend I had the privilege of attending a conference for Kenyans living in the US. Five hundred were there, and it was a great chance to network and meet Kenyans living all over the country as well as hear from government ministers and other leaders about Kenyan development, infrastructure, challenges, etc. Friday night was an informal networking session and Saturday and Sunday were crammed full with various sessions. Six permanent secretaries of government ministries were there (foreign affairs, roads, transport, etc), as well as a number of other business leaders and professors. On Friday, I got to meet H.E. Elkanah Odembo, the Kenyan Ambassador to the US, and of all the speakers and leaders who were there I was most impressed with him. He was especially articulate, intelligent, reasonable, with an impressive bio; he has accomplished a great deal.
Vision 2030, a government program aimed at building Kenya into a “middle-income country providing a high quality life to all its citizens by the year 2030″, formed a key focus on the conference (read more at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kenya_Vision_2030). This program is built around the pillars of economic, social and political change. I’ve heard a great deal about Vision 2030 during my time in Kenya and it was great to learn more details about the project. It was also an honor to meet Mugo Kibati, the Director General of Vision 2030.
The most interesting sessions explored the new Lamu – South Sudan – Ethiopia project, the topic of promoting youth and gender equality and the profile of the Kenyan Diaspora in the US. The proposed Lamu project is huge, including a superhighway from Lamu to Juba in South Sudan and Addis Ababa in Ethiopia, a railway line, oil refinery and pipeline, and new resort cities. This comes at a price tag of more than $16 billion…quite a bit, more than the annual budget of Kenya, but would have a huge impact on the impoverished northern region of Kenya, the area most hard hit by the drought, and the landlocked countries of South Sudan and Ethiopia, spurring a tremendous amount of trade, growth and investment. They skipped over this part, but I believe that one slide showed an estimated time-frame of 24-40 years!
When it comes to debates over aid and reliving the suffering of those dying every day of hunger in the Horn of Africa, I believe that these projects are by far the most valuable and helpful long term. This is what allows local industry to thrive. Kenya does little trade with Ethiopia, but this would transform both markets and blow open so many opportunities. Plus it would make traveling by motorbike to Ethiopia much more possible, which would be awesome. I really hope this projected is completed, and soon!
I met Kenyans from all over the US — Las Vegas, Texas, Pennsylvania, Boston, Virginia and many in Maryland. Some did business, some were students, some worked in government, one guy was a Marine. I discovered anew the difficulties of explaining the doctrine of the Trinity to a skeptic. Overall, however, it was great to have so many people interested in what I was doing and encourage my plans to return to Kenya. Some especially exciting discoveries were two Kenyan churches in Baltimore, and a couple of newspapers that might feature me. So, we will see how that goes!