Wed04162014

Greater Metro

Kenya-Memphis connection budding

Kenyan-600

Four Kenyan governors will be in Memphis Monday through Wednesday (July 29-31), with the goal of cultivating a sharing of ideas to "enrich operations and propel the counties represented by the governors to internationally expected standards."

The Ramogi Economic Forum, whose president is Eng. Charles Kodi, is coordinating the governors' visit. The non-profit organization's goals include providing information on business and investment opportunities in Kenya to stakeholders. It mainly targets U.S. financial institutions, academic institutions, non-profits, aid organizations, hedge funds, state and local governments and faith-based organizations.

The visiting contingent will include: from Nyanza and Western Kenya, Jack Ranguma – Kisumu Governor, Cornel Rasanga – Siaya Governor, Cyprian Awiti – Homa Bay Governor, and Sospeter Ojaamong' – Busia Governor.

The itinerary includes interaction with City of Memphis and Shelby County governments, the National Civil Rights Museum, Slavehaven, the Auction Block and Anthony "Amp" Elmore's Safari House Museum, 1035 Semmes, on the initial day, Monday, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.

In advance of the governors' visit, Walter Mongare Sr. arrived in Memphis last week. A widely-known Kenyan entertainer (satirical comedy) and radio personality, Mongare shared his thoughts about the importance of a Kenya-Memphis connection during an interview at City Hall.

Kenya, he noted, recently attained a new constitution, a new president and a new system of government. He sees Memphis as offering a unique opportunity to observe and learn some things that would aid in the transition.

Memphis was not originally included among the cities that the governors Mongare is working with had planned to visit. He was traveling by plane from Washington, D.C. to New Jersey when visiting Memphis came into his view.

"I realized when I was reading one of the magazines that there was something unique about Memphis," said Mongare. That included Mayor AC Wharton's Innovation Delivery Team.

"What they were describing as their role at that time is what we are going through... in terms of Memphis wants to change and make its life better and revitalize vacant properties with new commercial properties," he said. "They want to do almost a systematic approach to economic solutions, door to door almost, which is want we want to do, take it door to door."

Mongare was initially intrigued by the magazine article's reference to efforts in Memphis to make use of an old railroad line for bicycle traffic.

"My thinking was why don't I just come to Memphis for a few days while I wait for my team to come...and see exactly what they have done with that bike thing. See if it is something we can adopt...in trying to reorganize our cities...without really hurting the small entrepreneurs."

Then came planning to meet with Mayor Wharton and exploring opportunities.

"I kind of have an open mind. When I set to go out, I don't know what I am going to meet. I open my mind, and let's explore..."

Mongare said he shared a lot and learned from the Innovation team. During an exchange involving the Memphis Area Chamber of Commerce, Mongare said he got a fresh take on a key obstacle to Kenya-Memphis trade. It boiled down to geography.

"It has nothing to do with no potential in Africa. Nothing to do with no potential in Kenya...It is a geographical disadvantage because we are on the other side of the continent...from America."

With that understanding, he said, thoughts can then flow to "whether it is export we are looking for or services...That is something that probably if I did not come to Memphis I would not have known."

Poverty levels and literacy rates between Memphis and Kenya correspond, putting the two entities in the position of responding to the same predicaments and sharing information, he said.

In that regard, partnering with Memphis offers some growth opportunities that would not be as readily available in a city such as New York, which operates on a much larger scale, Mongare said.

Maybe a sister-city opportunity can evolve from the Kenya-Memphis interaction, he said.