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Kenya's Entrepreneurs Seek Bump From Obama Visit

Kenya Leads in Informal Sector Employment
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An artisanal businessman working in Kenya's informal job sector said he hopes U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to a global entrepreneurship conference will open international markets to workers such as himself.

Joseph Omondi works on an earthen stove at his workshop in Korogocho, on the outskirts of Kenya’s capital Nairobi.

He began working with metal four years ago to provide for himself and his young family.

Produces pots, pans

Everyday he produces pans, pots and metal boxes. On average, his business makes $300 a month.

Being a low-skilled worker meant that Omondi couldn’t join the country’s formal employment sector, so he turned to small-scale production.

Omondi hopes that the upcoming entrepreneurial summit will help businesses like his access international markets, especially the U.S.

“My prayer is, or rather I hope, when President Obama comes he gives us advice on how small-scale businesses can access the American market, and then we will have benefited from the summit. This is my hope," Omondi said.

A new report by the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa said Kenya has the highest informal sector employment in Africa -- in large part because the more formal economy can't absorb all the would-be workers. Close to 16 million Kenyans have no formal employment.

Small, unregulated businesses

Kenya’s 2015 Economic Survey showed the informal sector employed 11.8 million people last year -- working in small and often unregulated businesses.

The government has programs to help youth acquire much needed capital, such as the Youth Enterprise Fund, and the "Uwezo" fund, which offers loans to young adults and women starting businesses at zero percent interest.

Kwame Owino at the Institute of Economic Affairs (IEA), a research group that focuses on fiscal accountability, said this entrepreneurial support could spark industrialization in Africa.

The 2015 Global Entrepreneurship Summit will be held in Nairobi, Kenya, on July 25-26.

“It’s almost inevitable. Now whether that will happen in each and every African country is all entirely a different thing because every country has its own peculiar policy problems that they need to fix, but, yes, I think entrepreneurial innovation is required for most of the African continent," Owino said.