Kenya’s New Foreign Policy Good for Africa
Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan is scheduled to visit Kenya this week. Our writer CHRISPINUS WEKESA spoke to the Nigerian High Commissioner Akin Oyateru about the visit and a wide range of issues touching the two countries.
What is the purpose of this week’s visit by Nigerian President Goodluck Jonathan?
He is here to promote the bilateral relationships between Kenyan and Nigeria. To promote people-to-people link which is the actual fulcrum of any sustainable relationship. He has been invited by President Kenyatta to come strengthen the warm and cordial relationships between the two countries. He wants to explore new ways of exploring bilateral trade. Also to promote the intra-African trade which is quite low now and to improve the economies of the two countries.
What areas do you see that can be improved immediately to boost the relationship between Kenya and Nigeria?
Agriculture, dairy, coffee, tea, horticulture, floriculture and animal husbandry. Kenya has done so well and Nigeria can learn from Kenya in these sectors. The second area is oil and gas. Kenya recently discovered oil. We believe this is an area we can impact positively since Nigeria has had oil for over 50 years.
Another area is finance and banking. There are two Nigerian banks in Kenya. The third one is coming. DTB is coming. We also want some Kenyan banks to go to Nigeria, for example, KCB and Equity, and we can develop more capital as Africans. We should not go to the International stock exchange or development partners to get money whenever we need to carry out capital projects.
Nigerians like flowers and mostly they buy them from London. Are we going to see flowers being imported directly from Nairobi?
We just signed the other day the joint commission for co-operation agreement. There will be a round table where we will bring investors from both sides to see if Nigerians can get flowers directly from Nairobi. It’s one area which President Kenyatta talked of when he was in Nigeria. We have KQ flights from Nairobi to Lagos which take five hours, yet the flower auction takes place in Amsterdam.Therefore instead of taking flowers to Amsterdam then to London, we want to reduce the time taken because even the flowers reach Nigeria from London when they are not fresh. We want the farmer in Kenya to export his flowers directly to Nigeria and the buyer in Nigeria to get the flowers at a cheaper price. There will be less overhead on the Nigerian buyers since middlemen will have been eliminated.
What is hampering business between Kenya and Nigeria. Is it lack of a direct shipping line, like of direct flights to Nigerian towns or what is it?
What has been lacking is a framework like the one we just signed. It’s a mechanism that will bring people together and try to resolve the problems that have been there. Direct flights between Lagos and Nairobi has been implemented. There is also need to establish a shipping line between Lagos and Mombasa. You should not go round Europe before you get your cargo from Mombasa to Lagos. But we must be able to make this shipping line viable. These are part of the things we will be looking at.
Some Nigerian government officials were in Kenya recently to study tourism management. What was that about?
This was a presidential steering committee on wildlife and national parks. They wanted to study wildlife management and conservation. Kenya has done so well when it comes to wildlife management. It has a lot of tourist destinations; safari and game watching. Right now is the season for the wildebeest migration. From Nigeria, a lot of people are coming to watch the wildebeest migration.
Kenya has a lot of parks – Nakuru National Park, Serena Sweetwaters, Nairobi National Park and Tsavo. Kenya has done so well in conservation . The committee members have gone to two countries – South Africa and Kenya – to found out how there is sustainable management in wildlife and conservation. How to preserve the fauna and flora and see how Kenya has reduced the conflict between man and animal then make it economically viable. They stayed here for five days, learnt a lot and I am sure when their report is written and submitted, we will see further collaboration.
Are Nigerians and Kenyans only interested in developing business relations or will we see cultural relations as well?
Culture is viable and we will help promote the relationship between the two countries. We want to focus on promoting young and upcoming Kenyan and Nigerian artists in order to expose their talents to the larger community. This will help them have confidence and appreciate their work.
What are you doing to end the stereotypes that Kenyans feel Nigerians are bad people and Nigerians also think Kenyans are bad people?
If we collaborate in the film industry, since Kenyans love Nigerian films, there will be no stereotypes. These are the kind of collaborations we want to see. I know most Kenyans listen to Nigerian music and if you ask them about it, they have a lot of good things to say about that, same to Nigerian movies. If you ask Nigerians about Kenya, they will tell you about tourist destinations, Maasai Mara and good things about the people. The stereotypes are brought about by lack of exposure, lack of understanding, lack of optimum interaction. All these have led to the negative sterotypes.
However, many Kenyans are now applying for Nigerian visas. The traffic has increased.
What is it that is happening in Nigeria when we hear of Boko Haram? Is it increased runaway crime or is it that we are not getting the accurate information about Nigeria?
All that is as a result of inaccurate information. Every African government needs to have a news agency that is able to report from a perspective of fact and reality of the situation. Not from some planted perspective as the Western media does. When you talk of crime in Nigeria, it applies to all countries. However, it’s true we have the Boko Haram problem in Nigeria but it is being tackled. It is a social economic issue that is being addressed by the Nigerian government.
Your predecessor Dr Chijioke Wigwe left the country after allegations of domestic violence. Was that matter sorted back in Nigeria?
It was sorted. Unfortunately it was one issue that was blown out of proportion. It was a domestic issue which should have been sorted out without the media getting in. However, Wigwe is one of the respected Nigerian nationals. He did not leave here as a result of the incident. He had completed his term and had retired after attaining the age of 60. In Nigeria, he continues to be seen as a consummate professional . Even now Nigeria is making good use of his talent. He is one of the men in charge of staff at the National Defense College of Nigeria. He is highly educated and I believe that with his spouse, they have resolved the issue the way matrimonial issues are resolved. I know the matter has been amicably resolved through the family.
Did the incident in which Kenya deported some Nigerian nationals sour the relationship between the two countries?
It cast some sort of strain but it did not sour the relationship. But it was within the right of Kenyan authorities to remove some people whom they thought were doing wrong. But what Nigerian authorities insisted on is that it should have been done properly. The right procedures must have been followed. We are consulting with the relevant Kenyan authorities to see how in future such cases can be dealt with properly. Unfortunately those who were affected did not have the time to put their things in order. Now we are in dialogue, we’ve pointed out some of the things raised by the Nigerian government to the Kenyan authorities.
There have also been complaints of harassment and intimidation of Nigerian citizens by Kenyan authorities and we have taken the concerns to the relevant Kenyan authorities. We are trying to find amicable solutions to the pressing issues and lay proper working procedures so that these issues will not sour the relationship.
There was a complaint by Nigerian nationals living in Kenya that the High Commission is not doing enough to stop Kenyan authorities from harassing, intimidating and stereotyping them that they are drug dealers.
It was much of an information gap and it was something within the community. We are one large family and we have been able to rectify this by giving more information about the steps we have taken and what proposals we are submitting to the Kenyan authorities. We have been engaging with the Nigerian community and we have a working group where we are exchanging information from time to time as to what is happening. We take their concerns seriously and present them to the Kenyan authorities. We are happy that Kenyan authorities are responding positively. Soon we will put this behind and look at what we can do together as a Nigerian community.
Nigerian has a lot of experience in oil and gas. Kenya just discovered oil the other day, there are a lot of expectations of economic boom but fear that oil brings strife. What advice will you give Kenyans?
We are happy about Kenya discovering oil. We have been engaged in dialogue with the Kenya government on how best we can collaborate with them in this sector. One of the areas is proper training and capacity building. We want to train middle level officials. They will visit Nigeria and see what is done in the oil and gas industry. Also helping Kenya write proper legislation for the sector. Help set up proper regulations for the sector. That way oil will be managed effectively for the benefit of the Kenyan people.
President Uhuru and his administration are more interested in dealing with our neighbours and other African countries. Do you think there will be more collaboration with Nigeria?
It’s interesting that Kenya is having Africa as the centrepiece of its foreign policy. Nigeria had this since independence. Therefore I think this is good and we more than welcome it. We are happy that Kenya will join us to ensure that Africa is our first concern. We welcome the rest of the international community but the implementation of our goals as Africa should be Africa-driven, then we can get support from our friends. But first of all, we must own it. I think this is what President Kenyatta is trying to do and what all the past Nigerian leaders have done. I expect that it’s going to be very fruitful.
Has the Nigerian policy of focusing on Africa served Nigeria well?
Absolutely well. No regrets. Sometimes there are challenges but you overcome it then you continue. It’s a life long journey that you must pursue.