Christine Emmett: From Crewe to Kenya – democracy in action
There are two monkeys sitting on the roof outside my window. OK so I can’t be in Crewe anymore this must be Kenya. Pounding the streets of Crewe a few weeks back was tiring, taking part in such a win exhilarating. Satisfied with the news and the fact that for all its problems democracy generally works in Britain I was now in quite a different place.
I had been invited to speak at the Sacoma World Entrepreneurial Summit in Nairobi. As I left Britain on Crewe polling day I had not been told my topic, but they knew my business background, passion for networking and Conservative convictions on free trade – this enough to qualify me, and surely all that CCHQ training (thank you Peter Botting!) would kick in?
The Kenyan post-election violence has affected the economy, so holding the summit here is part of the healing and re-building process. They want to send the message – Kenya is open for business.
Back at the conference I am introduced to the High Commissioner Adam Wood and Deputy Trade Minister Hon. Omingo Magara MP. He shakes my hand I look into his eyes “How is your country Sir?” The question is perhaps too direct, his eyes fill with tears “we took her to the abyss, we did not realise, how close we could go, we have just got her back – thank God” He opens the conference with a prepared speech from the Prime Minister but it is the one from the heart that counts with me.
BBC Radio Leicester wants to do a live interview. I tell them how friendly it is, how I know no-one in Nairobi but via a friend in Leicester I have now got the loan of a driver and offer of supper in his friend’s home. That’s how networking works.
Some of the people speaking have already had an impact. Mabel, is about to open an airline in Kenya. She has a hat the size of a house, you can’t miss her. Mabel Airlines is just the sort of initiative that Kenyans returning from abroad want to offer – yes they want a good investment, but also to give something back to their country of birth – besides as she says she wants to show off how well she has done in the UK!
Khalid Sheikh is from Leicester – 20 miles from my home. He wants me to visit his factory when we return. His passion though is his new label BABA – Buy African Build Africa, he wants to get Africans to process their own chocolate and coffee so that all the value added does not end up in the west – according to him a kilo of chocolate beans is sold back to Africa as drinking chocolate at more than 10 times its original value. This chimes with my own view that in the long run real trade will help developing countries far more than aid. Trade tariffs are one obstacle, and some aid creates problems. If you give away free money you will never run out of customers, and is creating a dependency culture wise?
The summit is well attended, 300 delegates from 20 countries. The atmosphere is collaborative and dynamic. My speech was written at 3am, I am grateful for notes from Syed Kamall MEP, and researchers Olly and Jonny over in Brussels. This country once leading the way for democracy in African politics has stumbled but just about picked itself up. Spreading the message of the importance of real trade, of networking, of humility in leadership (now that’s a difficult one!) is all part of the process of re-asserting democratic values.
Keeping the economy on track is vital. If you get a chance and want a holiday with a purpose, try Kenya – you may think you are having breakfast with a giraffe or drinking Taska by the pool, but you could be building back democracy - one beer at a time.