• International terrorism and violent extremisms are something that unfortunately links us.
There is more to Spain than La Liga, the popular Spanish football league.
In a one-on-one interview with the Star, Amb Javier Viedma spoke about Spain-Kenya relations, drawing close historical links and mutual areas of cooperation between the two states.
Who is Amb Javier Viedma?
I am a career diplomat and this is my first embassy and posting in Africa in 30 years of service. I arrived in the country two and a half years ago and I was very pleased and surprised by the fact that Kenya is a very vibrant democracy and energetic economy and the regional business hub in East Africa.
When Spain’s Foreign Affairs minister Joseph Borrell came to Kenya in June this year, it was the first of such high-profile visit in 40 years. This is despite establishing diplomatic relations in 1965, Spain opening an embassy in Nairobi in 1967, and Kenya reciprocating 50 years later in 2007. Why this distance?
I must admit that I am a bit sad for the fact that the relations between the two countries are not to the point where they should be, considering the size and importance of Kenya as well as Spain to the world, I think there is a lot to improve, and that is part of our main task. However, we must be fair in the sense that there were various attempts to have the Foreign Affairs minister come to Kenya, which was not possible for various reasons, one being security. There were Spanish citizens who were kidnapped in Kenya by al Shabaab, at a time when there was a planned visit that had to be cancelled because of this sensitive issue. There were also events like the violence that took place after the 2007 election. There was an unfortunate chain of events that made it difficult.
That’s why I made it my priority since I arrived in 2017 to make this visit possible. The minister finally came and it was a very productive visit. He was received by President [Uhuru] Kenyatta and a lot of things are going to come out of that meeting. He also met with CS [Monica] Juma, the then Treasury CS Henry Rotich and Tourism CS Najib Balala to talk about tourism and protection of wildlife. From this, we are starting to see lots of things because these visits are one of the main instruments to promote diplomatic relations. Among the MoU’s signed was on political consultations between the two countries and CS Juma is scheduled to reciprocate the visit later this year or early next year to continue and maintain these relations at the highest level.
The kidnapping of the Spanish couple also brought to the fore how terrorism remains a threat to the two countries and their nationals. How do you think the two countries can cooperate against this threat?
International terrorism and violent extremism are something that unfortunately links us and makes us look at it from a common point of view. We are strong democracies with similar values and suffered severely from the scourge of terrorism.
In this regard, Spain is committed to the security of the Horn of Africa. We are part of the anti-piracy operations on the Coast of the Horn of the Indian Ocean, as well as the troops based in Somalia, which is part of the military capacitation by the European Union.
We are strengthening our relations and soon, we will open an Office of Interior within the Embassy and this has been made possible by the European Union programme executed by the Spanish foundation. We are enhancing the rule of law in the Horn of Africa. This project affects nine countries and it is intended to reinforce the fight against terrorism and ensure the rule of law in the Horn of Africa.
Looking at the trade numbers, there is not much to talk about. What are you doing during your term to fix this and ensure a balance in trade and investments between Kenya and Spain?
It’s not that bad. Among the EU member states, we are the fourth in trade. We have an interesting volume that keeps on increasing. It is true that the balance is in favour of Spain, but I think there is a lot of potential to promote Kenyan goods in Spain and Spanish goods in Kenya. This is growing.
In terms of investments, we have more companies investing here. Since the 1990s, Spain has invested more 100 million euros in the energy sector alone made possible by the will and interest of the Spanish companies and also instruments of public financing that have been fruitful to both countries.
Spain is aligning itself with the Big Four agenda in orientating investments in Kenya.
Spanish countries are leading in infrastructure and we are present in many countries in the continent, constructing airports and harbours, motorways and railways.
Spain can also help in manufacturing because we are leading in this. In food security, we are the second-largest producers of fruits and vegetables in the EU and one of the largest in the world. We can assist in the use of water in agriculture. We have the third-best health systems in the world and we can advise, not just in building and building capacity but also on but in organising the health system.
And being one of the largest fishing powers in the world, Spain can help in developing the blue economy. We not only catch fish but also process it and eat it, making it the second country in the world with the highest consumption of fish.
To this extent, Spain has built three full laboratories in Kisumu, Mombasa and in Nairobi to analyse the fish from the sea and the lake to help Kenyan fishers to export to the markets of the highest standards in the world such as the EU.
During the Borrell meeting, the housing pillar was discussed, looking at how Spain’s expertise in building cheap and environmentally clean social housing can be of use in Kenya.
Tourism is the third major contributor to Spain’s economy. On the other hand, it is Kenya’s second-largest foreign exchange earner. How are the two states cooperating to boost respective sectors? What should be done to promote this sector?
One is building infrastructure around tourism. It is crucial that tourists come, but it is more important that they want to come back. There is a need to ensure stratisation of demand. We have a lot of visitors in the summer and not so many in the rest of the period. So. We help in promoting all the kind of tourism such as industrial tourism: Visiting industries. We also developed green tourism cultural tourism not on the coast but inside Spain with a lot of cultural heritage and well as internal tourism and I think we can help Kenya in that domain.
There is also cooperate in tackling terrorism, international and national, and terrorists tried to hit the tourism sector. When this happens, you need to prevent and fight it and make the tourists and the public, in general, understand that the threat is controlled and isolated.
We were able to fight national terrorism and we receive visitors from all over the world. Infrastructures such as hospitals. In Spain, when foreigners fall ill during their visit, they can go to public hospitals and everything is well organized because there are agreements with other countries to cover for their assistance.
Does Spain have a development agency and which are the project Spain is lacking Kenya?
No. However, the are some established by the private and by the church. Several NGOs in Lamu offering health and education, one working in Murang’a providing free services teams of doctors operating free for two weeks from different hospitals across the country donating items and medicine. Every year, we have at least four excursions to counties such as Murang’a and Turkana. This is what l call to-people cooperation.
Kenya and Spain are well known for their athletics and your country in regards to football. What is the cooperation in this field?
I am happy the Kenyan people love Spanish football and identify with more teams and players than I can. The Spanish people admire the deeds of Kenyan athletes and they are closely following the [Eliud] Kipchoge Challenge of doing the marathon in less than two hours.
In deepening our sports links, there are some Spaniards working in Eldoret helping athletes in their training as coaches. And thanks to Minister Borell’s visit, we are exploring the possibility of opening a football academy here. La liga already has a delegation here, sort of an ambassador of La Liga in Kenya on a permanent basis because of an agreement signed between the professional league here in Kenya and in Spain to manage how to deal with transmission rights.
Spain has more than eight years of experience in devolution. What lessons can Kenya take from Spanish’s system?
Spain is a complex country made up of different people not in the sense of Kenya – we don’t have an ethnicity problem – but we have people from different traditional cultures and languages. So how do you harmonise these differences to ensure unity? We decided to go for devolution. A study by Oxford University shows Spain is the second most decentralized country in the world after Germany.
We can learn from each other. We recently organized an event with Strathmore University trying to study the two models and we drew some parallels and drew some interesting conclusions on how to learn from each other.
Devolution is both a good thing and a bad thing. It is a good thing if you do it the proper way. It is not an absolute, it has to be properly done, and this is one of the conclusions we drew from this seminar.
Once implemented correctly, it dramatically improves economic development, inclusions of regions and enhances the attention to the citizens because it brings administration closer to the people.
Late last month, the Supreme Court in Spain ordered that the remains of dictator Francisco Franco be moved from the Valley of the Fallen for the sake of healing and moving on. This mantra has also been used in Kenyan politics. Does it work?
The Spanish transition took place more or less 40 years ago. People feared to repeat the mistakes of the past, in our case, with the civil war in which many lives were lost and left the country divided very badly. There were also fears about the future.
The issue of justice and remembrance. You can’t make justice without certain truth, and you can’t have truth without some justice. You need a degree of recognition to victims and both sides but at the same time, you cannot be stuck in the past. You need to look into the future and reconciliation. We have seen that in South Africa, in Eastern bloc countries and hose that are from authoritarian rules into democracies.
There has to be a wise combination of forgiveness, remembrance, justice truth, and the future. The Spanish model has proved right in the last 40 years because there has not been a longer period of prosperity for Spain.