COOPERATION

Might Kenya emerge stronger out of Covid-19 crisis?

Today's the 50th anniversary of signing of Kenya-Switzerland bilateral cooperation agreement.

In Summary
  • Despite being a lower middle-income country, one of Kenya’s Achilles heels is its extreme socioeconomic disparities and geographic inequality.
  • A guiding thread of past and present programmes of the Swiss Cooperation has been to address some of the mentioned fragility factors while leveraging on the comparative advantages of Kenya.

Exactly two months ago, on March 5, a Kenyan citizen travelled back to Nairobi from abroad. A week later, she became the first case that tested positive for Sars-CoV-2 in Kenya. The country is probably still at the beginning of the Covid-19 outbreak, which has revealed a frightening propensity to lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of governance systems all over the world.

Kenya can build on a number of inherent assets, but is confronted also with some limitations in today’s fight against that deadly virus. An undeniable force of the Kenyan society is its innovation and entrepreneurial capacity. Within the blink of an eye, Kenyan businesses have switched their production: textile manufacturers fabricate locally over 60 million protective masks and suits; and distilleries and breweries provide thousands of hectolitres of ethanol to local sanitiser companies. The well-established mobile and tech-savviness of Kenyans could turn out to be an asset in both prevention and response to the virus.

Nairobi has proved yet again to be a crucial regional hub for East Africa during this time. Neighbouring countries, still devoid of the necessary laboratory infrastructure or of trained staff to perform their own Covid-19 testing, ship their samples to Nairobi for testing at centres such as the Kenya Medical Research Institute.

However, despite being a lower middle-income country, one of Kenya’s Achilles heels is its extreme socioeconomic disparities and geographic inequality. Furthermore, the majority of the urban poor and half of the Kenyans living in rural areas lack access to safe water and basic sanitation. Hygiene advice such as handwashing must sound cynical to them.

It also so happens that today is the 50th anniversary of the signing, on May 5, 1970, of the bilateral cooperation agreement between Kenya and Switzerland. For the past half century, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been partnering with Kenya to address Kenya’s humanitarian and developmental needs.

This occasion therefore provides us with an opportunity to both look back, and also look forward. And looking forward is really very important at a time of so much uncertainty.

A guiding thread of past and present programmes of the Swiss Cooperation has been to address some of the mentioned fragility factors while leveraging on the comparative advantages of Kenya. Let me pick a couple of examples from the past and present.

Socioeconomic disparities are best addressed by specialised training and job creation. And so we find the establishment of training centres such as the Kenya Utalii College for Hospitality and Tourism. It was opened in 1970 by Switzerland and handed over to the Government of Kenya in 1983. It has trained over 60,000 graduates, including from 15 mostly African countries, significantly boosting the sector, which now contributes almost 10 per cent to Kenya’s GDP.

Less well known is the Kisii Training Centre for labour intense road construction and maintenance, supported between 1984 and 2001. It heavily contributed to the accessibility of rural areas, boosting the socio-economic integration of Kenya.

Today, our main partners are county authorities and the vibrant private sector—even in the refugee camp Kakuma. For the Covid-19 response, the Swiss Development Cooperation is part and parcel of the National Business Compact Coalition.

Since 2012, by contributing to the response to the various humanitarian emergencies, including the Covid-19 pandemic, Switzerland is focusing its current programme to the Northeastern counties of Kenya by partnering, eg with the Frontier Counties Development Council (FCDC), in strengthening particularly the livestock and water sectors.

This commitment is in support of Kenya’s ambitious devolution process that should be further strengthened. County governments should be empowered in the Covid-19 health response—particularly now with a capital that is cut-off from the rest of the country.

It has been repeatedly said that the world after Covid-19 won’t be the same. It actually could be a unique opportunity for Kenya to truly advance the Big 4 agenda, particularly in achieving affordable healthcare for all.

For this to succeed, the gross inequalities will need to be addressed, taking measures that not only prevent the spreading of the virus, but protect people from falling into food insecurity and loss of livelihoods.

And Kenya might emerge stronger than before if it succeeds in maximizing its clout as a regional hub and as a pivot for creative entrepreneurship.

You can count on us: even after 50 years of cooperation, Switzerland will remain a partner to the Kenyan people in the global journey towards achieving resilience and sustainable development.

Regional Head of International Cooperation, Horn of Africa, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation