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Kenya Amb. H.E. Mwende Maluki Mwinzi poses during an interview ahead of the country’s December 12 Independence Day at its embassy in Seoul. Photo by Yeo Hong-il/Korea News Plus

Kenya, Korea establishing new bilateral ties

The Korea News Plus had an exclusive interview with Kenya Amb. H.E. Mwende Maluki Mwinzi regarding Keyna’s investment environment and the prospect of bilateral ties between Korea and Kenya on the occasion of the Independence Day of Kenya, which falls on December 12. _ ED.

Q: First of all, how are the significance of Kenya National Day for not only the entire African continent, but also for bilateral relations between Korea and Kenya, and last are there any plans for Your Excellency to boost bilateral relations to the heights level?

A: Kenya attained independence on December 12, 1963. Next year marks the 59th anniversary as an independent state. Jamhuri Day, as Kenya’s National Day is referred to, is the symbol of rebirth for our nation and an opportunity for every Kenyan to reaffirm their commitment to the process of nation-building.

Jamhuri Day is also an important occasion to acknowledge the sacrifices of our forebears whose struggle and dedication delivered Kenya’s freedom and formed the basis for the myriad milestones that our nation has achieved to date.

Their sacrifice is a reminder for us to take ownership of our identity and advance the course of peace and prosperity for which some paid the ultimate price.

In terms of its relevance to our bilateral relations with Korea, it is noteworthy that diplomatically, the ties between the two nations were forged two months after Kenya declared its independence when Korea established a diplomatic mission in Nairobi in February 1964. 

This points to a valuable relationship, one which has been characterized by a journey that spans 58 years.  To date, Kenya has been privileged to host three state-level visits from Korea, the most recent being when President Park Geun-hye met with President Uhuru Kenyatta in June 2016 and former Prime Minister Lee Nak-yeon visited in July 2018. 

Our relations are on an upward trajectory which is clearly marked by Kenya’s enhanced engagements with Korea.

Q: How are the policies of the Kenya government to prevent pandemic spread in Kenya soil and in particular for collaboration with Korea in relation to vaccine supply, booster shots, and travel bubble exchange?

A: In the interest of safeguarding the welfare of Kenyans and our visitors, the Government of Kenya was one of the first globally to implement what was considered at the time, radical measures to contain COVID-19. 

At the onset of COVID-19 and well before it had reached our borders, our government established a multi-agency, inter-ministerial task force to develop strategies that would enable us to protect and cope with the imminent burdens the coronavirus would place on our systems. 

Such measures came to bear when Kenya closed her airspace following the onset of its first infection in March 2020.  As it spread, we implemented lockdowns, curfews, and containment measures around the food and service industries. 

We also commenced an aggressive training program for our healthcare workers, one that we eventually expanded to include a home-based care component. 

It’s noteworthy that this resolve earned Kenya and, in particular, our Cabinet Secretary for Health, Hon. Mutahi Kagwe, accolades from the Wall Street Journal alongside Korea’s own Dr. Jung from the Korean CDC in April 2020.

The government continues to escalate and de-escalate these measures, and recently, as a means of encouraging uptake for the COVID-19 vaccine, announced the intention to restrict unvaccinated people from accessing public services. 

Kenya currently has a healthy supply of COVID-19 vaccines, which it is administering to all those aged 15 years and above.

With that said, Kenya hasn’t prioritized public health at the expense of economic well-being. Similar to Korea, Kenya seized the opportunity to enhance its resilience and self-reliance by looking inward.

In order to mitigate the hardships of vulnerable communities, we have provided monetary and nutritional support for those in this category.  And then, we have also pushed domestic manufacturing.

For instance, rather than join the global scramble for PPEs and other COVID-19-related items, our National Emergency Response Committee (NERC) imposed a ban on the importation of PPEs and masks as a means of not only ensuring rapid access to these items but also spurring much-needed job creation. 

Hela, a global apparel company with a foothold in Kenya, turned to PPE and face mask production in the first months of the pandemic, producing 5 million masks a month between April and May 2020.

This means that through innovation and with the WHO requiring 80 million face masks per month at the height of the COVID-19 duress, Hela manufactured 1 out of 16 masks required globally per month, contributing immensely to the slowing down of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Another Kenyan company known as Revital, operating in Kilifi County, became Africa’s largest producer and exporter of vaccine syringes during the COVID-19 period.

In 2020 alone, Revital exported over 70 million COVID-19 vaccine syringes to over 20 countries globally. The company currently has the capacity to produce 300 million COVID-19 vaccine syringes every year.

We have been at the forefront of advancing R&D for infectious diseases and are now focusing on expanding our biopharmaceutical industry as we build vaccine development and manufacturing capacity. 

Here, we are looking to collaborate with Korean firms such as IVI and those keen to establish a profitable but impacting footprint in Africa. 

As relates to pandemic collaboration with Korea, while Kenya has not received any vaccines bilaterally, we have been beneficiaries of Korea’s contribution to COVAX, which has been distributed through the African Union. 

Through programs such as the Trusted Travel digital tool, which verifies the authenticity of test results for entry into and travel within Kenya, and innovations such as Kenya’s Change Plus, which is a mobile service platform that tracks vaccine defaulters, takes history to vaccination and tracks coverage in real-time, we are able to better protect ourselves, our delegates to and from Korea as well as Koreans when they visit Kenya.  

Q: How are recent high-ranking officials’ contacts between Korea and Kenya for paving the way for the new level of bilateral agendas. Are there any plans for Kenya’s president to visit Korea sooner or later to upgrade bilateral ties?

A: The visit by the Hon. Betty Maina, EGH, Cabinet Secretary for Industrialization, Trade and Enterprise Development as head of Kenya’s delegation to the Seoul Expo in which Kenya had the privilege of being the Guest Country is a reiteration of Kenya’s commitment to enhance the vibrant historical and economic relations between our two countries. 

Just this month, our Minister for Defense, Hon. Eugene Wamalwa, participated in the UN Peacekeeping Forum that was hosted by Korea and wherein he shared details of planned collaborations with the Republic of Korea on the training of Peacekeepers and the disposal of explosives, among others. 

In the next few months, should COVID-19 permit, we should expect to see a lot more high-level engagement from the Kenya side that includes but is not limited to our upcoming Joint Economic Commission. 

Finally, as regards a State Visit, Kenya has every intention of reciprocating the visits she has had, and our nations shall be guided by the pandemic circumstances and also their domestic political calendars.

Q: Within the framework of the African bloc, how are Kenya’s role and responsibilities to promote trade and prosperity in the region by utilizing its trade hub location, for example, as we as to solve regional issues such as recent Afghan refugee problems?

A: Fortunately for Kenya, she is currently placed in leadership positions that complement her functions and aspirations within the African bloc.  To begin with, HE President Uhuru Kenyatta is the Chairman of the East African Commission (EAC), the current President-in-Office of the Organization of the African, Caribbean and Pacific States (OACPS), which comprises 79 African, Caribbean, and Pacific States. 

He is also a member of the High-Level Panel for Sustainable Ocean Economy, a unique initiative of 14 world leaders to build momentum towards a sustainable ocean economy. 

Finally, Kenya is currently a Non-Permanent Member of the UN Security Council, a position that is invaluable given that over 70 percent of the issues tabled before it relate to Africa. 

As a continent, we need peace and security to serve as the cornerstone of our economic strength.  It is our commitment to this _ within the context of our own capacities and threats _ that we respond to issues, including that of refugees. 

At a domestic level, the strong macro-economic indicators on Kenya’s economy and the incentives put in place to enhance the environment for doing business have formed an important basis for these interactions.

Kenya ranks 56 among 190 economies in the ease of doing business, according to the latest World Bank annual ratings.

Kenya’s GDP growth has been at an average of 5.5 percent over the last 10 years despite the deceleration in 2020 owing to the negative impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Kenya is the dominant economy in East Africa, contributing 46 percent to the region’s GDP, and is currently the third-largest economy in Sub-Sahara Africa.

Kenya’s urban population has increased from 9.8 percent in 1969 to 28 percent in 2020, leading to an increase in consumer demand for high value goods. Further, the high labor productivity in Kenya is drawn from the large pool of highly trainable and literate workforce.

Kenya has signed Preferential Trade Agreements with a total population of over 1.7 billion people with a market value of over $ 40 trillion. Kenya is currently in negotiations with the United States of America for a free trade agreement as well as an Economic Partnership Agreement with the European Union.

Kenya has a membership of strategic regional trading blocs such as the East African Community Common Eastern and Southern Africa (COMESA) and the Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA).

The Continental Agreement creates the largest single market in the world, encompassing 55 nations, 1.3 billion people, and an economic area with a GDP valued at $3.4 trillion.

Kenya is a regional anchor economy and a veritable gateway into the continent with myriad economic accelerator advantages such as an air transport hub with four international airports connecting directly to Europe, Asia, the Middle East, and the US; a communications & logistics hub with access to regional transport corridors; an extensive Indian Ocean coastline well suited as a production and distribution base to service Africa, Europe, the Middle East, and South Asia; two strategic ports Mombasa port (15-meter depth) connected to over 80 ports worldwide and the Lamu port (17.5-meter depth) launched in 2021 to increase Kenya’s cargo handling capacity; a standard gauge railway that runs 30-freight and two-passenger services daily between Nairobi and Mombasa; EPZ, SEZ and Industrial parks offering built-for-purpose facilities; state of the art inland container depots in Nairobi and Naivasha; and a well-established telecoms network.

The strategic location and Kenya’s bright economic prospects have attracted a number of Korean companies, including: Samsung Corporation, LG Electronics, POSCO Daewoo Company, Goldrock International Enterprises, Afrikon Construction Company, Kenko EPZ, and Lotte Confectioneries.

The door remains open for more Korean companies to set base, especially in the manufacturing sector, in order to benefit from Kenya’s youthful, well-educated population, the thriving creative, and innovative environment, and competitive labor costs.

Q: How does Your Excellency assess about desirable diplomatic development direction between Korea and Kenya in the years to come in terms of Korea’s resources diplomacy?

A: The prospects for this relationship have yet to be fully realized.  At a trade level, the Mission has been creative in its pursuit of new linkages with Korean stakeholders by establishing digital platforms for the exchange of information. 

We have created and held webinars with prospective investors that have enabled vibrant engagements between the government and both the Kenyan and Korean business fraternities.

Issues such as technical and non-technical barriers to trade such as tariffs and phytosanitary restrictions have dominated these but so has the growing appreciation of Kenya’s viability as an investment hub. 

My goal is to heighten these engagements because our areas of synergy _ particularly in health, manufacturing, and the blue economy _ offer countless dividends for both our countries. 

I am confident that once we enhance the level of awareness of the opportunities, we shall see increased FDI into Kenya, not to mention growth in tourism.

Q: In recognition of the increased trade, business, and cultural interest that mutually exists between Kenyans and Koreans, the Mission has initiated consultations with Kenya Airways to commence direct flights between Nairobi and Seoul.

We are also in discussions on partnerships within the African continent that can liaise with Korea on re-opening this route as it will indeed boost the volume trade and passenger transit between Kenya and Korea and the ASEAN region. It will also fill the gap left by the cessation of direct flights by Korea Air in 2014.

A: The Mission is also involved in conceiving a tailor-made strategy for the Korean tourism market together with the Kenya Tourism Board (KTB).

We are looking to fulfill the aspirations of the adventure traveler, comfort and value for money packages for the business traveler, and a curated experience for the more discerning traveler looking for comfort, style, and unique experiences in Kenya.

Kenya is indeed a business and pleasure destination with facilitating every taste being home to the original bush safari, a bird watcher’s paradise, leisure golfing, sun, sand, and surfing, as well as water sports and deep-sea diving.

Q: Would you specify the economic relationship between Kenya and South Korea?

A: The relations between Kenya and Korea are founded on shared values, most importantly the upholding of the tenets of democracy as well as concerted multilateral effort for shared prosperity.

In recognition of the shared responsibility of the Community of Nations to tackle the current global challenges, Kenya participated in the P4G hosted in the Republic of Korea on May 30-31, 2021, in recognition that climate change presents the single biggest threat to development, and its widespread, unprecedented impacts disproportionately burden the poorest and most vulnerable.

As mentioned above, Kenya, as a non-permanent member of the United Nations Security Council, participated in the forthcoming Special Committee on Peacekeeping Operations (C34) Ministerial meeting hosted by the Government of Korea held virtually on December 7-8, 2021

Numerous opportunities also exist to share best practices given Korea’s economic miracle and transition into a global economic powerhouse. The Saemaeul Movement was an important building block in Korea’s development, and its contribution to this country’s economic revolution is incalculable.

Kenya’s appreciates the role of the cooperative movement and provides support to the sector through the State Department for Cooperatives in recognition of the role of cooperatives in supporting micro and medium enterprises as well as enabling framer cooperatives to establish a presence in foreign markets.

It is worth noting that Korea hosted the 33rd World Cooperative Congress under the banner of the International Cooperative Alliance (ICA on December 1-3, 2021. Kenya was represented at the congress by the cooperative youth movement.

The aim is to establish partnerships in Korea and learn from the Korean experience in terms of mainstreaming cooperatives into the national economy as well as the greater engagement of youthful energy and talent to ensure continuity of the cooperative movement in Kenya.

The cooperative sector is a prospective area for bilateral cooperation through the Korea International Cooperation Agency (KOICA). The KOICA continues to play an important role in promoting our engagement, and to date, it has implemented 12 development projects aimed at accomplishing the objectives of the global sustainable development goals.

The cumulative Korean ODA loans extended to the government of Kenya now stands at $51.4 million (Kshs.3.816 billion).

The priority sectors are human resource development, industry and energy, health, rural development, infrastructure, water, ICT, and environment and gender.

For sustainability, cooperation could be targeted toward important economic multipliers such as the marine and blue economy sectors.

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Yeo studied German in Seoul. He has worked as a journalist for the past 40 years. He has mostly covered diplomacy, foreign schools, regional festivals, culture and other areas. He can be reached at hyeo7832@gmail.com or 82-2-6956-6698.