Mr Jeff Immelt the Chairman and CEO of General Electric with CEO Nation Media Group Mr. Linus Gitahi on January 30,2012 during the CEO, s Breakfast meeting to launch ‘MY Kenya” Media Campaign ceremony held at Serena Hotel Nairobi Also in the picture is Industrialist Dr. Manu Chandaria (cetre). William Oeri

With the politics surrounding the upcoming General Election fast gaining momentum, top executives in the country’s commerce and industry sectors held a rare a breakfast in Nairobi last Monday. And they were not here to sign lucrative business pacts.

The cream of private sector management was here to launch a crusade that would ensure a non-violent General election. The footage of the 2007 post-election violence that was played at the meeting reminded them of the magnitude of the mayhem. Their personal accounts of the turmoil would later confirm this.

Yet, it has now emerged that the business community remains vastly nervous of the uncertainty posed by the upcoming elections, with many entrepreneurs convinced that the majority of the critical factors that led Kenya to its darkest moment remain unsolved.

Subsequently, they are cautious about expansion of investments, with most small and medium enterprises holding minimum goods in warehouses and planning to scale down marketing from mid this year to avert losses as was the case in 2007.

As a proactive measure, the business community has also joined hands to generously bankroll the multi-million shilling, My Kenya campaign that was unveiled by the Kenya Private Sector Alliance (Kepsa) this week, vowing to stop at nothing to ensure a peaceful election.

In an interview with The Standard On Saturday, Kepsa CEO Carole Kariuki says entrepreneurs are apprehensive, as the causes of the 2007 chaos have not been addressed. “The cracks in the wall that led to the violence have not been adequately addressed and any wrong word or action could easily trigger the violence again,” she notes, singling out the issue of land as one of the main unresolved issues.

Not cautious enough

Kariuki expresses fears that the political class is still not as cautious as it should be when holding rallies, stating that politicians are constantly making remarks that could easily divide communities again.

“The media can only make it worse if it concentrates on highlighting these outbursts from the politicians and giving them more airtime than focusing on positive things that are happening in the country,” she warns. The CEO says the business community is extremely cautious about expansion of investments as the country approaches the upcoming elections.

“SMEs are holding minimum goods in their premises and marketing budgets are being scaled down from mid this year,” she reveals. Kariuki says the 2007 violence caught entrepreneurs off-guard. “The business community adopted a wait-and-see attitude due to the experience in previous elections. However, the magnitude of the violence was unexpected,” she notes.

The violence crippled a majority of the top firms in the entire duration of the chaos, with productivity levels in some of them dropping to below 30 per cent.

By the time machetes were being put back in the scabbards and calm was restored, the business community had lost billions of shillings, with some investors shifting business to alternative destinations that were deemed secure and stable.

Kariuki affirms that despite the prevalent anxiety, the business community will stop at nothing to ensure the forthcoming elections are devoid of violence.

It is for this reason that they have launched the My Kenya campaign, which will also involve the civil society, faith-based organisations, the media, musicians, students, and other Kenyans of goodwill.

Kariuki says the campaign was long overdue. “The private sector wants to be more proactive this time round. In 2007/2008, it adopted a wait-and-see attitude and came in to rescue the country when the damage was already done. Starting this campaign early will set the agenda for the country to encourage attitude change in good time before the elections day,” she affirms.

She explains that the whole idea of the campaign is to ensure Kenyans have a paradigm shift and own their country and not to allow anyone to destroy it by rallying them against each other or plundering their own resources. The Kepsa boss says the business community has over the past four years also made concerted efforts since 2007 to ensure the next elections are free and fair. Apart from making valuable input in the new Constitution before it was passed, she notes that entrepreneurs have also engaged various arms and agencies of Government to ensure that the new Constitution is implemented in the target time frame.

Clear structures

“This will ensure we have clear structures in place that will promote the respect of rule of law and ensure credibility and integrity is seen in public officers. This will go a long way in confirming to Kenyans that the country is on the right track to ensure free and fair elections,” Kariuki asserts. She says Kepsa is also working closely with the Chief Justice and the Attorney General in the reform process, something that was hitherto unheard of.

“This is to work together to make sure that reforms as envisaged in the new Constitution are on track with involvement from all stakeholders. We are working with Commission for the Implementation of the Constitution and the Constitution Implementation Oversight Committee, among other bodies towards this goal,” Kariuki avers.

According to General Electric Global Chairman and CEO Jeff Immelt, many global investors are interested in investing in the country’s infrastructure, energy and gas but could only do so if there was a stable business environment. Immelt is part of US President Barack Obama’s Council on Jobs and Competitiveness initiative and is also a member of the Business Council of America.

By JOE KIARIE, The Standard

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