Africa has long been a part of the world that worried international leaders, and while enormous strides were made over the last few decades, there continued to be a sort of reticence or quiet reluctance for embracing the business potential the famous (and condescendingly described) “dark continent” had to offer. Bringing Western management methodologies was also resisted, with a sort of “I’m-not-sure-it-will-work-there” superiority providing the excuse to stay away.
That’s not the case now. For those who invoke Peter Drucker’s management wisdom, the master’s famous dictum that good management must be opportunity-focused and results-focused is now ready for prime time in Africa and, since last week’s referendum approving Kenya’s new draft constitution, in Kenya particularly. With the vote (some 70 percent of Kenya’s voters approved the draft constitution), corporate and organizational leaders now have strong evidence that Kenya is ready – as a society – for prosperity and peace.
Not that it wasn’t anticipated. For years now, Western society has focused a great deal of attention on how good the future of Africa can be and, rightly so, Kenya has received (along with the Republic of South Africa) the lion’s share of attention (no pun intended). As far back as 2004, the Council on Foreign Relations’ Foreign Affairs has tracked Kenya’s progress, and in pointing out that Kenya “houses the largest U.S. embassy on the continent and regional headquarters for a host of U.S. activities and agencies, including security and military assistance, the Agency for International Development, the Department of Agriculture, the Library of Congress, and the Centers for Disease Control,” it was clear that Kenya was being primed for leadership for business and regional development. Similarly, with one of the United Nations’ three regional offices located in Nairobi, Kenya was poised to bring other kinds of expertise as well, particularly with the two agencies (U.N. Environmental Programme – UNEP – and the U.N. Human Settlements Programme – UN-Habitat) that provide the bulk of the U.N.’s service focus in Kenya. Combined, these organizations play a significant role in liaising between Kenya’s business and political leaders and the many nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) headquartered in Nairobi.
The result has been, for some time, a society that is primed to move forward, and now with the draft constitution approved, that work can begin. It has not been unanticipated, and one of the most useful descriptions of what is happening – or can happen – was published in June. Lions on the Move: Progress and Potential of African Economies, McKinsey & Company’s in-depth study of what’s happening – and what can happen – in Africa should be required reading for all global management teams looking to work with Kenya as the country moves forward. The potential is there, and it’s probably been a long time since there was such a perfect environment for Mr. Drucker’s assertion. Kenya is definitely opportunity-focused and results-focused. It will be fascinating to watch this important nation move forward.