Is USA upstaging China in the Kenyan market?
5 months ago, 24 June 00:05
While USA and China are trading barbs over trade surplus that favours China, USA has a solid trade surplus in services. That is what she has leveraged on in Kenya starting with eateries like KFC, Pizza Hut, and Subway and Burger King.
Next time you are on the way to JKIA stop on the last roundabout just after security check. Look to the east inside the airport and admire Four Points Hotel by Sheraton.
Look north about a km or less and Crowne Plaza Hotel stares at you.
Look south west and a Hilton is visible, about a km away on Mombasa road. The plane about to land might be a Boeing. Never mind that you can walk to SGR main station from this roundabout.
As China and USA haggle over tariffs we could have a back of the envelope analysis of their competition for the Kenyan market and our mind.
For now the Kenyan mind is fully American, the seeds of airlift have continued to spout with USA replacing the traditional UK as the best place to study.
It is not clear to me why the pendulum is shifting back to Britain. More of my former students are asking for recommendation letters to UK and continental European universities than USA.
Is it the Trump effect or aggressive marketing by UK universities?
The popularity of USA as the place to school was buttressed by graduation of President Uhuru Kenyatta from an American university, Amherst.
Some keen observers might suggest there are traces of American influence in his policies like cash transfer to the vulnerable members of the society and economic stimulus programmes.
Our curriculum is still very American, we use case studies from Harvard, watch their movies and TV programs.
The high number of Kenyans living in USA adds to the capture of Kenyan mind by America. Add Obama and it will take a long time for Kenyan mind to shift elsewhere despite Chinese efforts with Confucius institutes and scholarships to China.
It will take a long time before talking Mandarin becomes “cool”. Around our cities and hamlets, there is enough evidence of American influence on our thinking, from attires imitating American flags to T-shirt’s written New York, Dallas, California etc.
And while we love American names like Johnson, Kennedy, Michelle or Nixon, we are yet to see Kenyans with Chinese names like Xi or Wen Wen.
I recently surprisingly came across a Kenyan student called Indira Gandhi. We are more likely to quote Martin Luther King, JF Kennedy or Shakespeare than Mao Zedong or Confucius himself.
The western grip of our mind is tightened by Christian religion which is shared among key western countries.
To make inroads into our minds, China may have to invent a religion or something close. Interestingly Japanese got into our market without gripping our minds.
Few Kenyans talk Japanese or are Buddhists or Shintoists. How did the Japanese and more recently Koreans do it? They focused on manufactured products which are “neutral” unlike services which evoke emotions.
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