Biden moves to get Chips Act funding for Kenya

US President Joe Biden participates in an engagement with President William Ruto of Kenya and business leaders in the East Room at the White House in Washington, DC. — Bloomberg

WASHINGTON: The United States is proposing to make Kenya the first country in Africa to benefit from funding in the Chips and Science Act, according to a White House official, underscoring the countries’ desire to cement tech industry relationships.

President Joe Biden’s administration intends to work with Congress to achieve the designation, the official said, although it wasn’t totally clear how it would be reached.

The US$280bil landmark law is aimed at bolstering domestic chipmaking through billions in subsidies and incentives.

Biden welcomed Kenyan President William Ruto and prominent executives to the White House on Wednesday, and said the United States and Kenya were “launching a new era of technological cooperation” that would touch on areas including cybersecurity, artificial intelligence (AI), clean energy and chips.

“We need you to help us strengthen the supply chains and the industries of the future,” Biden added.

Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo discussed a new semiconductor partnership with Kenya during the discussion, according to the official, who detailed the moves on condition of anonymity before their release.

The partnership, under the International Technology Security and Innovation Fund, would see the United States work with Kenya’s government to support the country’s semiconductor assembly, testing and packaging sector, the official said.

The intention is to strengthen the security of global supply chains and complement US manufacturing of chips.

The executives attending the meeting included Ruth Porat, president and chief financial officer of Alphabet Inc, and Ursula Burns, chairwoman of Teneo. Executives of Kenyan companies, including Sitoyo Lopokoiyit of M-PESA, Anthony Githinji of Semiconductor Technologies Ltd and Jit Bhattacharya of BasiGo, made up the majority of participants.

The discussion falls at a time of heightened global collaboration on safeguards for emerging technology, specifically regarding AI which experts say poses a threat to privacy and heightens the risk of disinformation.

The visit from Ruto, who was honoured with a state dinner yesterday, highlights the Biden administration’s efforts to counter Chinese and Russian influence in the region and reverse years of what African leaders say is US neglect.

Ruto cast Kenya as a country with a burgeoning tech industry.

“The space around AI, and the space around cybersecurity and the investments that come with it, we are expanding our footprint in the digital space,” Ruto said.

AI is one emerging technology that has captured Biden’s attention as he seeks to implement privacy and security safeguards in the absence of US Congressional action.

Others attending included Franklin Amoo, co-founder of private equity firm Baylis Emerging Markets; Kamau Gachigi, executive director of Gearbox; Peter Muchiri, vice-chancellor of Dedan Kimathi University of Technology in Kenya; Cheryl Mills, chief executive officer of BlackIvy Group; and M-KOPA chief executive officer Jesse Moore.

Before arriving in Washington, Ruto spent Monday and Tuesday in Atlanta. He visited the Coca-Cola Co’s headquarters, and attended a reception with private-sector leaders late Tuesday, according to two administration officials. — Bloomberg

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