Kenya is the gateway to Africa

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Head of Mission at the Kenyan Embassy in Brussels H.E. Ambassador Johnson Weru is accredited to the Kingdom of Belgium, the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg and the European Union. His mandate includes furthering Kenya’s national interests, in partnership with other member states of the African, Caribbean and Pacific (ACP) Group of States. Amb. Weru is a career diplomat and public servant, with over twenty years experience working in government and in international development agencies in Africa and Europe.

Prior to his appointment, Amb. Weru had a distinguished and long service at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Nairobi, where he served as Director for Economic Affairs and External Trade. His main responsibilities included coordinating and setting policy direction for bilateral and multilateral trade, and economic relations between Kenya and the rest of the world, including the ACP. He has wide experience in international finance, international trade negotiations, and public sector
management and restructuring
.

Excellency, how do you look back at the very beginning of your mission here in Brussels?

Let me first of all commend our good relations with the CBL-ACP. Its a long journey.  Ahead of my arrival here I had a lunch in the garden of the Belgian Ambassador then to Kenya, His Excellency. Bart Ouvry.  The Ambassador took me through what he thought were the key priorities for the relations between Kenya and Belgium. I arrived here with a number of names. One of the names given to me by H.E Bart Ouvry happened to be Mr.Maurice Vermeesch. I was also introduced to Mr. Christian Verbrugghe who is an excellent business man in Kenya and Africa. Through them I met the organisation CBL-ACP which I quickly learned was a body that brings together business men from Luxembourg and Belgium in contact with ACP member States.

Looking back at my very beginning here, I came with an open mind. I am from a technical position as the Director of Economic Affairs and Foreign Trade at the Foreign Ministry and I would say Belgium/Brussels was not really a new place for me, I used to come here for very many meetings. I had a rough idea and above that, my predecessors in the department happened also to have been appointed as Ambassadors to Brussels. So I had a fair background of what there was and given that Brussels over time in the last seven to eight years has become an leading diplomatic capital. In the last count, I believe the second largest diplomatic presence after Washington is Brussels. I came here with a good intention of taking advantage of the diplomatic community to see how we can deepen relations between Kenya and the member States of the European Union at all levels; political, economic and international. We have made quite a good account of that. So, roughly that what I can say. 

What are some of the milestones that you can look back on today in the Belgium-Kenya bilateral relations?

In 2015, Kenya hosted an international investment conference. This conference coincided with the visit to Kenya of a trade
delegation, that time at the initiative of the Flanders Investment and Trade Agency but coordinated by ACP-CBL. I advanced for the delegation to attend the conference as part of an international delegates.

Out of that, we are now organising the next trade mission in November and December to Kenya. Nearly at the same time like previsouly but in other countries at the same time, Tanzania, Rwanda, Uganda and Ethiopia. But the most important thing is that we have talked to the business companies in Belgium and in Luxembourg ahead of their departure. The complete briefing
takes place on the 12th of september, talking about what they are looking, what they will be looking for and be perceived and introduce my country to them. We are looking for business
opportunities, we are looking for investors, we are looking for trade, they are looking for trade. These are basically convidiences of business ideas and objectives.

The main milestone of my term was the visit of President Kenyatta
in June 2016. It was fantastic because President Kenyatta was hosted for a diner by CBL-ACP and it was so well organised and attended. When the President got into the room, his first reaction was that he was shocked at the huge number of business men and business executives who had shown up. But alongside the President’s visit, I had undertaken an advocacy among Kenyan businessmen. So in total, we had a ratio of nearly six belgian businessmen to one kenyan. Almost about 150 businessmen from Belgium and the EU. Also, we had very many opportunities for high level engagement.

Could you sketch us the landscape of the trade relations today between Kenya and Belgium?

Looking at our trade relations, looking at the different levels of trade with Belgium we have seen remarkable improvements. In 2014 for example, our exports to Belgium increased from 6.1 million kenyan shilling to 6,7 million kenyan shillings. The imports from Belgium have increased from 10.05 to 19.15 percent. We are looking at a percentage win in trade, despite the fact that there is a deficit of trade between Kenya and Belgium, there is a more than significant percentage of exports and you can attribute this to the macro-economic environment we were able to create in Kenya.

I also want to mention the tremendous work we are doing with the European Investment Bank(EIB), which is the financing arm of the European Commission. We are currently the largest customer in terms of portfolio for politics in the ACP. In the framework of our project we are now producing 50 megawatts of clean energy. We are very proud of that. Many other projects  exist within the framework of our priorities  which are energy, agriculture, construction, good governance, we have been able to utilise our European Development Fund(EDF). Also blended products that are available from the market especially the mix of loans and grants. And we have had two, actually three high level visits from the Vice-President of the EIB in Nairobi.

Excellency, could you give any tips and advice for Belgian entrepreneurs interested in Kenya?

Kenya is the getway to Africa, no doubt about it. If you want to get into Africa, there is no other gate. Whether you are coming from Asia, from Europe or from the Americas… the gateway is Kenya. Nearly all the global airlines are in our International airport and land in Nairobi.

We feel that anybody who wants to do business with Africa should set up an office in the house where he has a reach to all that target audience. But we have a strong domestic demand, don’t forget. We are the largest economy in East Africa.


We have all the banks you are looking for in the world, from Citibank to BNP Paribas who have commercial presence in Nairobi. We have the second largest stock exchange in Africa, with a capitalisation of nearly 60 Billion dollars. I feel we have a touch of any senior investment. Kenya is also well advanced in telecommunication, infrastructure and mobile money innovations. There is a lot of hype in the international media about Africa but very few people understand what Africa stands for. So within Kenya, landing there, you are going to prepare yourself to have a reach of probably 800 million people in Sub-saharan africa and these are people that are willing and ready to do business, to be part of a huge market. What we are saying is that we are slowly looking at a business environement that will allow an economy to benefit and not just be a global warehouse. We are starting from assembling to complete manufacturing.  And we have put that in the context of the trade agreement that we have negotiated with the European Union called the Economic and Partnership Agreement (EPA) where we have indicated very clearly that despite the provisional free market access to the EU we are going to protect our industries  that the necessary provisions are there and the agreement is going to do exactly that. 

Excellency, as an Ambassador do you have any idea about what will be your legacy?

The last President from Kenya to visit the Kingdom of Belgium was in the 90s . H.E President Daniel Arap Moi, who presided Kenya from 1978 to 2002, had come and the fact that H.E
President Uhuru Kenyatta has been here twicei.e April 2014 and June 2016  is a big honor for me as Ambassador. And everytime he has visited Brussels, be it over a working visit, or an official duty, he has had an opportunity to talk to the kenyan diaspora, to talk to the investors, to speak to the world from here. It is a big big legacy for me. But moving from there I have also been fortunate to have been the Ambassador who finally concluded the negotiations on the Economic Partnership Agreement (EPA) between the EAC member States and the European Union. It was a complex trade agreement that brought a lot of interests  on the table and we nearly stretched our diplomatic skills but nonetheless the agreement was eventually ratified by the Parliament and  deposited with the EU Council on 28th September 2016. And that gave a lot of hope for the next thirty years for our trade with the European Union. I have told our people back in Kenya that this is the best gift they can get out of Kenya’s foreign diplomacy. Trade that is duty free.

I want to mention Yvan Korsak, he is a great trade officer for Belgium. I would say that,  this gentleman should be honoured by his Governement. He is doing a lot of work and he has used his time in Kenya wisely. Everytime I go to Nairobi, it coincides with the King’s Party. I have seen the way he has managed the receptions, business guests are in larger number than the political guests I have over time kept a list of all those importants contacts. Through him I was able to meet many many Belgians working in my country. These numbers are increasing. Many Belgians are returning to Kenya due to the climate but also for business and they have formed a great community and Mr.Korsak is great asset to the Ambassador. Everytime he is in Brussels he always comes here… the sky is the limit.

Message from H.E. Mr Johnson WERU
Ambassador of Kenya