Gulf nations are seeking to help their firms venture into Kenya in a renewed bid to grab a piece of the local economy and rebuild relations following moments of suspicion.
Last week, President Uhuru Kenyatta hosted high-level delegations from Qatar and, later, Saudi Arabia, two of the oil-rich Middle East nations that have had mostly bad press in Kenya for suspected mistreatment of Kenyan domestic workers there.
On Wednesday, President Kenyatta told Saudi Commerce and Investment Minister Majed bin Abdullah al-Qasabi that Kenya will not discriminate against investors coming into the country.
“We have taken deliberate efforts to create a conducive environment for foreign and domestic investment to thrive side by side,” said President Kenyatta after a bilateral meeting at State House. “We urge you to take advantage of the huge opportunities that we have created.”
The Saudis signed a paint distribution deal with local firm Akkad Systems.
The Saudi entourage included Abdullah al-Mobty, member of the board of the Council of Saudi Chambers and president of the Al-Mobty Group.
There was also Mr Sa’ad Abdullah Alkorayef, president of Saudi agricultural equipment firm al-Korayef Group; Hmood AlKhalaf, the general manager of the AlKhalaf Trading and Transportation Group; Sultan Alqahtani, CEO of Kingdom Paints Factory; and Care Group Chief Executive Emad al-Thukair.
The Qataris indicated an interest in re-entering the Lamu Port-South Sudan-Ethiopia Transport (Lapsset) corridor project and invest in agriculture.
On Tuesday, Qatar’s Emir Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani landed in Nairobi with more than two dozen dollar billionaires from the Gulf nation in tow.
It was the first such visit but President Kenyatta’s team said the Qatari leader was repaying the State visit to Doha in April 2014.
The two leaders said they had signed deals on developing tourism, cultural co-operation, scientific research and education, among others.
No tangible deal was reached on the role to be played by Qatar in Lapsset, however.
“Kenya will appreciate Qatar’s support for development projects in infrastructure, education, energy, tourism and hospitality sectors, among others,” said President Kenyatta after bilateral talks with the Qatari leader.
“We also request Qatar to consider supporting capacity building in Kenya, particularly in the aviation industry, to meet the demand for specialised cadres of staff in our two countries.”
Members of the delegation included Mr Akbar al-Baker, the CEO of Qatar Airways; Mr Abdulaziz bin Nasser al-Khalifa, CEO of the Qatar Development Bank, often involved in financing agricultural and industrial projects; and Mr Ashraf Abdulrahim Abu Issa, president of the Abu Issa Holding, a Qatari firm involved in seeking investment opportunities abroad.
Others were Mr Badir Abdulhameed Mustafoy, CEO of civil engineering firm Qatar Building Company, and Sheikh Ali bin Hamad bin Khalid al-Thani, the president of construction firm HBK Group.
Officially launched during the President Mwai Kibaki era, Lapsset is an ambitious plan made of seven key infrastructure projects.
These include a new port in Lamu with 32 berths, international highways linking Lamu and South Sudan and Ethiopia through Isiolo, three international airports, a railway, resort cities and a multipurpose dam on Tana River.
Kenya seeks to finance these projects, initially estimated to cost more than Sh2.5 trillion, through public-private partnerships.
In 2008, the Qataris had arrived in Kenya seeking to lease at least 40,000 hectares for a Sh180 billion irrigation project in exchange for a loan for part of Lapsset.
The deal faltered after critics accused the government of reneging on its duty to improve agricultural technology for its farmers.