The aftermath of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s trip to the G7 Summit, held in Taormina, Italy, last month is a good time to take stock of Kenya’s foreign relations under his administration.
In the last month or so, President Kenyatta has met the world’s nine most powerful leaders. It is no accident. The invitation to the G7 was recognition, by the international community, that Kenya matters both for its own sake, and because it speaks for Africa.
In a three-week blitz last month, the President took Kenya’s voice to the most powerful. In London, he met British Prime Minister Theresa May. In China, for a major infrastructure summit, he met Chinese President Xi Jinping and Russian President Vladimir Putin. At the G7 in Italy, he met the Presidents of the US, France, the German Chancellor, and the Prime Ministers of Canada, Japan, and host Italy. This was a first for Kenya, and a first for Africa.
President Kenyatta’s speech at the Summit made an eloquent case for Africa’s weight when it came to solving some of the world’s most important problems. As he said, none of those problems — not terrorism, not climate change, not immigration, not inclusive growth — would be solved unless Africa’s aspirations were put at the very heart of the G7’s agenda.
And he was heard: A clutch of G7 leaders were later to take up the themes of his speech and to engage him, and other African leaders, on the matters he had raised. And this was capped with an invitation to the G20 summit in Hamburg, Germany, in July.
The fact of the matter is that President Kenyatta’s influence at home and on the continent also means influence further afield: Defending Kenya’s interests, and Africa’s interests, has not led, as some believed it would, to less influence. In staying true to our pan-African principles, Kenya’s influence has grown.
This point may be profitably pursued. There are those, not least here at home, who thought that Kenya’s influence would grow if we set aside pan-African principles. There are those who still think that the proper policy for Kenya is one of acquiescence: A policy that sets aside the principles of pan-Africanism for one knows not what. The lesson of these last few weeks is that the route to influence in partnership with our foreign friends runs through the defence of Africa’s interests.
And let’s be clear: Kenya’s, and Africa’s, interests do require partnership with friends and allies abroad. Take our interest in security. Restoring it in Somalia requires engagement and cooperation with nations and institutions abroad whose interests coincide with ours. So does restoring peace in South Sudan. We want these two neighbours to return to peace so they can raise their people to prosperity. The benefits are obvious: As the President has often said, a stable and prosperous Somalia means a stable and prosperous Kenya; a stable South Sudan means that Kenya’s opportunities will grow. We also know that terrorists are keen to seize ungoverned spaces in our neighbourhood, and to harm us if they can. It’s clear, then, that Kenya’s interests lie in partnerships with our friends, with whom we will secure the peace and prosperity of the region.
Once again, President Kenyatta has delivered. The partnerships formed or strengthened since his administration came into office have supplied intelligence; they have elicited equipment; and they have helped us fight terrorism and keep regional peace processes on track. What remains is to deepen these partnerships, whether in Africa or abroad, so that we can secure the peace and stability without which our prosperity would remain a mirage.
Prosperity remains a priority for all of us. Kenyans expect that this administration will raise their standards of living, while keeping the cost of a good life within reach. Our foreign policy has made a substantial contribution to that goal. One has only to look at our partnership with China, which has made the Standard Gauge Railway and its “Madaraka Express” service possible.
Controversy has raged, but the facts that matter are clear. Kenyans understood that we needed a new transport infrastructure, because they saw for themselves that we could no longer rely almost entirely on our roads. They could see that we needed to move goods and services across the country and the region quicker, because they grasped the importance of trade not just here, but with our neighbours and partners too. Kenyans could see that we needed to find jobs for our sons and daughters: Jobs that would teach them new skills, and bring them opportunities that we, their parents, never had. Most importantly, Kenyans are ambitious: They believed it could be done, and they expected us to deliver.
Expectations were high. The responsibility was heavy. The SGR is here to deliver. We will be able to get from Nairobi to Mombasa in four-and-a-half hours. We expect the cost of transporting goods to fall from KSh20 per tonne per kilometre to KSh9 — more than halved. That will directly benefit every Kenyan: We shall see less wear and tear on our roads; we expect a boost to GDP growth of up to 1.5% a year; and we can look forward to quicker industrialisation.
Equally, we expect the new railway to carry about 25 million tonnes of cargo a year. That will reduce congestion in Mombasa, which we must do if we expect to maintain its position as the leading port in the region, and ours as the centre of East Africa. And all this has been done well ahead of schedule: Kenyans will see a return on their investment even sooner than they expected. We owe all this, and the further future benefits of the SGR, to our partnership with China: Proof, if any were needed, that Kenya’s foreign policy is paying immediate dividends right here at home.
And other statistics bear us out as well. Kenya has made remarkable strides in creating an enabling environment that is conducive to doing business, underpinned by a strategy that has sought to address both the cost and ease of doing business.
Our energy supply has grown from 1,500 megawatts to nearly double in four years, transforming business and communities. A large portion of the energy is green. We have laid a firm foundation towards making our country a hub of production and investments.
On the ease of doing business front, we are a model for Africa. For two consecutive years, the World Bank has ranked Kenya as the second most improved country globally, up a cumulative 44 places in two years; and rising to the top-most reformed country in Africa in 2017. Barely two weeks ago, Ernst & Young’s attractiveness index report ranked Kenya the second most attractive destination in Africa. This demonstrates the impact of the reforms we are undertaking in making Kenya the go-to country on making investments happen.
Our overall investment levels have topped $1.9bn in 2016, up from less than $400m in 2013. Over 30 multinationals have chosen Nairobi as their regional hub. These include Volkswagen, Volvo, Peugeot, Iveco, Foton, Wrigley’s, Johnson and Johnson, IBM, Honeywell, Coca-Cola, McKinsey, Cisco, Unilver, Google, and Diageo and VW and Peugeot, the latter two birthed by the President’s visit to Germany and France.
Too often, in my view, foreign policy has been considered a poor relation of domestic policy. The truth, as this administration has shown, is that our foreign partnerships will be truly transformative if we stand our ground, defend our interests, and engage foreign friends frankly, targetting mutual respect and a win-win result.Esipisu is Secretary, Communications and State House Spokesperson
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