• Japan and Kenya have enjoyed a close friendship for nearly 60 years.
• What may we expect from this historic friendship going forwards, at this exceedingly difficult time – what we may term as the “with-Covid-19” era?
In July, President Uhuru Kenyatta announced the resumption of international flights. I recognised this as Kenya’s decision to revive the economy and to learn to live with Covid-19.
Japan and Kenya have enjoyed a close friendship for nearly 60 years. What may we expect from this historic friendship going forwards, at this exceedingly difficult time – what we may term as the “with-Covid-19” era?
Well, one way would be to consider what the two states have achieved through close collaboration, starting from the very beginning.
Japan’s Official Development Assistance to Kenya started with a small step by receiving two Kenyan trainees immediately after independence in 1963.
In time, the scale of the projects undertaken through our partnership grew to the point where Kenya is now the biggest recipient of Japan’s ODA in sub-Saharan Africa.
The high point of this historic and close collaboration was when the Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad VI) was held in Nairobi in 2016. This was an extraordinarily successful event and was the first time ever that Ticad was held on the African continent in the 23 years of its history.
Interesting questions arise, however, in the Japan-Kenya development cooperation: How do we choose which projects to support, and how can we be sure these projects are really beneficial to Kenya?
Ticad process provides all the answers. The conference is built on the twin principles of “African Ownership and International Partnership”.
All the projects undertaken within the Japan-Kenya development cooperation are specific to the needs of Kenya identified by Kenyans themselves. Japan only comes in as a provider of resources and expertise to assist implement what has already been internally prioritised.
At the moment, Kenya’s development priorities can be summarised in the “Big Four agenda” initiated by President Kenyatta. It has the four pillars of food security, affordable housing, universal healthcare and manufacturing.
We can identify in this context, examples of projects that directly and indirectly support these four pillars.
The ongoing development of the Mombasa Special Economic Zone is an example of direct support for the manufacturing pillar of the agenda. This SEZ project on completion will be a manufacturing and logistics hub for Eastern Africa, which will also create huge employment opportunities in the region.
The Ngong Road Expansion Project Phase 2, which was completed in April this year, will indirectly have the greatest impact.
For many years, the traffic congestion that builds up along Ngong Road during rush hour has been limiting the development of Nairobi.
With the improvement of access to the Nairobi CBD from Ngong through this project, it will take about 15 minutes, where previously it took more than one hour. This helps not only for commuting but also for emergency cases.
Furthermore, even for property development, the Ngong Road project lays a foundation for the fulfilling of the affordable housing component of the Big Four agenda. This is an example of Japan’s high-quality infrastructure project providing a major boost to create a better environment for economic activities.
Equally significant in terms of projects supporting the Big Four agenda is the Sh1.9 billion grant power project using Japan’s highest quality technology that was signed this September. This grant will enable the improvement of power distribution systems in and around Nakuru and Mombasa.
On another occasion this September, I signed additional Exchange of Notes for “the Project for Human Resource Development Scholarship”. Under this project, 13 young Kenyans will have the opportunity to study in Japan for their advanced degrees.
All these examples illustrate the same point: That Japan, by focusing on Kenyan priorities which have been developed internally, always comes up with future-oriented projects that provide long-term benefits to the Kenyan people and helps secure a better future.
Beyond Covid-19 pandemic, I am sure Kenya will emerge even stronger and continue along the road to economic advancement.
At every step on that road, even rough, Japan will walk with Kenya to promote its development and bring about a better life for the people of Kenya.
Ryoichi Horie is the Japan ambassador to Kenya