Innovative mobile payment frontrunner seeks Finnish trading partners

Innovative mobile payment frontrunner seeks Finnish trading partners

Countries around the world are now eager to seize the business opportunities Africa has to offer. In the case of Finland and Kenya, this is already becoming a reality.

Kenya is the largest and most developed economy in East Africa. The country’s middle class is growing rapidly, and Nairobi has strengthened its position in recent years as a regional business centre. Growing regional trade and improvements to infrastructure in East Africa continue to boost Kenya’s promising economic development. The high level of expertise and technological development of Finnish companies correspond well to the areas where Kenya seeks to develop its economy.

During their visit to Finland last week, a delegation of 25 Kenyan companies explored opportunities to increase trade between the countries. Finland’s long history of development cooperation in Kenya supports the advancement of trade.

Carole Kariuki is CEO of KEPSA, an umbrella organisation with more than 500,000 member companies.

Coffee for Finland, health technology for Kenya

When it comes to Finland, Kenyans are most interested in health technology products, the energy sector and information technology.

“I see great potential for collaboration in these areas. Finland and Kenya both wish to deepen their trade relationship, and Finnish companies have great opportunities to break into the Kenyan market,” says Carole Kariuki, CEO of the Kenya Private Sector Alliance KEPSA.

“It was not until I came to Finland that I learned that Finns drink the most coffee per capita in the world. Kenya, for its part, produces the world’s best coffee, and we want to bring it to Finland. Kenya also grows fair trade roses sold in Finland, but they are currently imported via the Netherlands. Our goal is to start importing our roses to Finland directly.”

According to Kariuki, Kenyans are a very entrepreneurial people, and there are at least as many women as men among small-scale entrepreneurs.

“It’s not always easy for women to compete in the Kenyan business world, but things are quickly changing for the better. At least it is easier to advance in business than in politics,” says Carole Kariuki with a laugh.

Kenya is known for its active innovation and start-up culture, and the country is one of Africa’s most developed when it comes to information technology. Kenya is a forerunner in mobile payment, with Kenyans having made the jump directly from a cash-based economy to the M-Pesa mobile payment system. The country has sought solutions to challenges through innovation.

Economic growth in East Africa is creating good conditions for trade and investment, but structural and logistic challenges continue to hinder economic development. Transport costs in East Africa are as much as 60–70 per cent higher than in the EU territory. Finland is working to facilitate regional trade by supporting TMEA (TradeMark East Africa).

“TradeMark East Africa also promotes trade in conflict-affected areas,” says CEO Frank Matsaert.

Mobile data helps the poorest

“In Kenya, mobile phones are so common that even many of the poorest Kenyans have one. We have developed the iShamba information service, which provides small-scale farmers with valuable information about weather conditions, market prices and farming methods via text messaging. This enables farmers to reach their markets at the right time and thereby increase their income,” explains Frank Matsaert, CEO of TMEA.

“Development of the Port of Mombasa has also continued, enabling it to be accessed by larger and larger vessels. Trade in border regions has seen further advancements at the borders with Tanzania, Rwanda and Uganda.

According to Matsaert, conflicts are one of the biggest obstacles to regional trade in Africa.

TMEA also works in conflict-affected areas, where it aims to create safe market environments particularly for women, who account for a large portion of cross-border trade. Work has also begun in the active trade areas bordering Somaliland. In Northern Uganda, we are working to get refugees involved in local trade activities.”

TradeMark East Africa (TMEA) aims to develop the regional trade environment in East Africa, remove obstacles to trade and improve the competitiveness of products. TMEA works to improve logistics by developing ports and border regions, among other measures. Finland’s contribution to the programme was EUR 9.8 million in 2017–2020.

KEPSA (Kenya Private Sector Alliance) is a Kenya’s private sector umbrella organisation. It currently has more than 500,000 member companies. The Embassy of Finland in Nairobi and the organisation engage in close cooperation.

Outi Einola-Head

The author works in the Department for Communications of the Ministry for Foreign Affairs.