• The two countries have enhanced bilateral ties in what was hailed as milestone
• Cooking oil crisis and trade featured in talk with ambassador Dr Hery Saripudin
Kenya officially opened its embassy in Jakarta, Indonesia, on March 17.
The commissioning was led by Foreign Affairs CS Raychelle Omamo and her Indonesian counterpart Retno Marsudi, and witnessed by African ambassadors led by the Dean, Ouadia Benabdellah, Amb of Morocco to Indonesia and Jarkata (ASEAN).
This was a huge step in enhancing bilateral ties, with Indonesia having opened its mission in Nairobi in 1982.
CS Omamo said the opening of the mission marked an "incredible milestone" in bilateral relations. Indonesia Foreign Minister Retno termed it an important moment, saying it will bring the two states closer.
What does this mission offer Kenya? What are the opportunities in Indonesia for Kenyan investors?
The Star's Eliud Kibii posed these questions to Indonesia Ambassador Dr Hery Saripudin in an interview that explored these and other issues, including the cooking oil crisis.
THE STAR: What does Kenya opening an embassy in Jakarta mean for the two countries?
AMB SARIPUDIN: It means a lot and can be interpreted in two ways.
One, the intensity and volume of trade between the two countries will significantly increase, compared to when the country was covered by the High Commission in Kuala Lumpur.
Second is that for the Kenyan side, Indonesia is regarded as a major political player in the region. We have the ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] community with 10 members, and it is headquartered in Jakarta.
We have embassies from friendly countries not only covering bilateral relations with Indonesia but also as a Permanent Representative to ASEAN. That's on the political side.
On the economic side, it is a fact that with more than 270 million people in Indonesia, it is a big market. And also, if you look at ASEAN as an entity consisting of 10 countries, the market is even bigger - now more than 600 million. And since 2015, ASEAN has been adopted as three communities: Sociocultural community, political-security community and economic community.
And with the headquarters in Jakarta, the number of friendly countries who accredit two ambassadors is increasing. They are sending the ambassador for Indonesia and also an envoy to ASEAN.
What are the potential areas of trade and investment for Kenyans in Indonesia?
There is a huge potential offered by Indonesia to Kenyan businesses. My only humble opinion is that we have to encourage Kenyan businesses because there seems to be a perception gap.
When you hear about Indonesia, you think, "Ahhh, Indonesia is too far away."
Second, Kenyan businesses are already trapped in their comfort zone. They prefer to do business with their traditional market or counterparts, such as the US and Europe. But if they come out of that comfort zone, I believe that every single product from Kenya can be accepted by Indonesians: coffee, tea, avocado, roses and many other products that you have comparative advantage on.
The volume of trade in 2021 was more than $500 million. You don't have to look at the number because it is still low, but if you look at the increase and the percentage, in 2020, the trade volume was only $415 million. If you compared again with 2019, trade volume was only $234 million.
So, between 2019 and 2021, trade has increased by more than 40 per cent. I can interpret that data that although there was the Covid-19 situation, when the economy slowed down and mobility of commodities and people also reduced, and shipment costs were higher, bilateral trade still increased.
It is encouraging for me and we are very optimistic there is still room to increase our trade. Of course, Indonesia enjoys a surplus in terms of balance of trade. But by opening the embassy and posting of, hopefully, a diplomat for trade and economy, they will disseminate information about potential markets for Kenyan business people.
You mentioned the trade disruption by Covid-19. One of Indonesia's proposed interventions at the G-20 is provision of standardised travel policy. At the bilateral level, what are Kenya and Indonesia doing to ensure the disruptions don't persist?
One of the priority issues discussed in Jakarta between CS Omamo and our minister, Madam Retno [Lestari Marsudi], was how the South-South countries can enhance cooperation to get equal access to vaccines.
Second, we have to move from providing vaccines to vaccination. Providing vaccines is one thing, but how do you vaccinate your people?That's what is most important.
So, the ministers agreed on the process, from vaccine access to vaccination. This means looking at how we increase the capacity of nurses and those involved in the vaccination.
The third is that in Indonesia, we have a parastatal (Biofarma) producing vaccines, and in a few months, Indonesia will produce its own vaccine.
They have met with partners in Nairobi and the important thing is most products produced by Biofarma are already in use by many countries in Africa. Not through bilateral commercial arrangements but through Unicef, for humanitarian assistance in Africa.
We hope the election on August 9 will be safe and successful, and we look forward to the new administration in Kenya. We hope the new President, whoever it will be, will soon visit IndonesiaAmb Hery Saripudin
Still on trade, one of the commodities that form a huge chunk of bilateral trade is cooking oil, whose prices in Kenya have skyrocketed. We understand there is a palm crisis in Indonesia. Would you explain what the crisis is about?
The situation started two or three weeks ago due to scarcity of vegetable oil in the market.
From my government's side, we see it as a business game, where a group of businesspeople would like to reap more benefits, ignoring the people's needs. But our government won't let this situation continue and it has intervened to stabilise the price.
When I say intervene, I don't mean it has taken over, but a certain portion of the product should be dedicated to those who cannot afford to buy.
From last week, when the Ministry of Trade of Indonesia intervened to stabilise the situation, the supply of cooking oil is already in the market.
Of course, for Indonesia as one of the most populated countries, sometimes any commodity that we think has no correlation with politics can be politicised, for instance, cooking oil. It is very much a political commodity, just like gasoline or any other staple food.
This is the first case affecting cooking oil happening in Indonesia in history.
There is an infrastructure boom in Global South countries. While Indonesia is building a high-speed railway between Jakarta and Bandung, Kenya is building the Expressway in Nairobi, both by the Chinese. What would you say of the role of China in developing countries' infrastructure?
My personal opinion is that the concept of South-South cooperation should also be complemented with triangular cooperation.
This means we don't treat China as the only or special third country when we talk about S-S cooperation. We have to make a balance. For example, in Indonesia, when you mention the fast rail from Jakarta to Bandung, it is in cooperation with China. But we also have other projects with Japan, with Western [countries] and Saudi Arabia because that's how to balance it. We don't want to depend on only one party.
That concept should be developed when we advance South-South cooperation because we are not blinded that there are many limitations when we develop this S-S cooperation. By inviting a third party, an advanced country, it will help us run it relatively well.
You mention the role of China in Indonesia and in Kenya. In our case, we have diversified to affirm that we are non-aligned, that we are sovereign and we don't want to be dictated to by only one country. We have to shop around when inviting for tenders for countries to compete so that our demands are met as efficiently and competitively as possible.
What is your take on the coming election?
We are closely watching the election because we will promote our bilateral relations with whoever wins and forms the next administration.
If you would ask me the status of our relations, I am one person who is quite happy as the relations have gotten better. When CS Omamo visited Indonesia, there is a high political commitment from both countries. We will continue to be very active after August.
My wish, of course as Ambassador of Indonesia, is to witness the highest-level visit either from Indonesia to Kenya or the new President from Kenya to Indonesia. We have already done the ministry and Parliament level.
There is already an agreement signed between the IEBC and the electoral commission in Indonesia. The IEBC has also invited Indonesia's electoral representatives as international observers.
The Russian invasion of Ukraine has resulted in a global food crisis and African and Asian countries have been affected. For instance, there is already a shortage of noodles in Indonesia. What role do you think S-S countries should play to prevent an escalation?
One of the issues that was discussed by our ministers on the political level was to strongly respect the sovereignty and territorial integrity principle because this is clearly stated in the UN Charter.
Indonesia holds the presidency of G-20 and this is very timely because Kenya also sits on the UN Security Council. So imagine those two platforms, one is security, the other is financial and economy. We can inject our principles through those two institutions.
At the G20, Kenya’s principles can be voiced through Indonesia. And likewise, Indonesian principles can be channelled to the Security Council through Kenya to represent the Global South.
On the Russia and Ukraine issue, our countries are very clear on their positions that we are concerned and the important thing is that the humanitarian situation is prioritised. All the cooperation at the international level, whether political or economic, at the end of it all is about humans.
What is your parting shot?
With my team here, we are still very happy after Madam Omamo’s visit and the opening of the embassy in Jakarta.
The response from Indonesia business people is very positive and as well as by those who will be seeking a visa. I am optimistic that our bilateral ties, not only ceremonial activities, but substantial in terms of trade, investment and development, will continue to improve.
We hope the election on August 9 will be safe and successful, and we look forward to the new administration in Kenya. We hope the new President, whoever it will be, will soon visit Indonesia.
That will be the top of our bilateral cooperation.