Finland seeks to boost foothold in East African bloc

Finland’s Ambassador to Kenya Sofie From-Emmesberger
Finland’s Ambassador to Kenya Sofie From-Emmesberger.  

Nokia is undoubtedly Finland’s most well known product in Kenya. But now, the Scandinavian country is keen to have its presence felt in the region by aggressively enhancing trade, cultural and bilateral relations with not only Kenya but also her neighbours in the East African Community.

Finland has already opened a trade office in Nairobi which acts as a facilitation hub to help Finnish businesses set up base in East Africa.

Finnish investors are eyeing opportunities in sectors such as energy, telecommunications, engineering, building and healthcare services.

Wärtsilä Oy, a Finnish energy company, has won multiple contracts in the energy sector to build substations for electricity supplier Kenya Power.
The Finnish Embassy in Nairobi, which was established in 1974, covers Uganda, Seychelles, Eritrea and Somalia.

The value of Kenya’s exports to Finland has grown by 38 per cent from Sh894 million in 2007 to Sh1.2 billion in 2011, buoyed by increased uptake of Kenyan tea, coffee and horticultural produce.

Finland also wants to share with Kenya its successful economic turnaround that saw the country bank on innovations, problem-solving and technology to become an industrialised nation.

The Programme for International Student Assessment, a global study of 15-year-old school pupils’ academic performance has consistently ranked Finnish learners top in reading literacy, mathematics and science.

The Business Daily spoke to Finland’s Ambassador to Kenya Sofie From-Emmesberger who outlined the European Union member country’s trade, cultural and bilateral relations with Kenya. Here are the excerpts.                 

How do Finnish businesspeople view Kenya and the African market?

Africa remains a bit unknown to most Finnish corporates. However, we have been holding trade conferences to create awareness to investors from Finland on the opportunities available in this region.

There is growing interest in Africa and we believe there is a lot of potential for investments here, especially in energy, telecommunications, construction and healthcare.

In 2010, we set up FinPro, the Finnish trade promotion agency headed by Mr Esa Rantanen here in Nairobi to promote trade between Finland and Kenya and also to help Finnish companies to set up in the country and the EAC bloc.

We think Africa has enormous opportunities for business. Kenya is particularly special for us. There is a robust ICT sector and innovation in the mobile apps segment such as M-Pesa.

The people are highly learned. English is also the official language and Kenya follows the common law system hence we share many values.

Nairobi is fast evolving into a hub for many global businesses who want to access the larger EAC market.

What is the status of trade between Kenya and Finland?

The major Kenyan exports to Finland are fresh flowers, vegetables, coffee and tea. Kenyan roses are a favourite for many Finns. The total value of the exports have grown from Sh1.7 billion (€15.3 million) in 2008 to Sh2.1 billion (€18.5 million) last year.

The principal Finnish exports to Kenya are machinery, transport equipment, manufactured goods and chemical products. Kenya imported goods worth Sh2.2 billion (€19.6 million) from Finland last year.

In some years the value of Finnish exports to Kenya has risen significantly over the average when for example in 2010, Wärtsilä Oy, a Finnish energy firm, was awarded a contract to construct the Kipevu III power station in Mombasa.

Nokia and Nokia Siemens Networks are well established companies in Kenya. Finnfund, a Finnish development finance company, has invested in a pharmaceutical company in Nairobi.

Honkarakenne, a Finnish log house manufacturer is also establishing itself through a Kenyan partner in the local markets.

Are there opportunities for cultural and community exchange?

This year, we had a deaf Finnish rapper, Signmark, visiting and performing in Kenya. He is a special envoy of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland for the rights of disabled persons.

We plan to bring Tero Saarinen, a renowned Finnish dancer and choreographer to Kenya. We are also looking at establishing more university and cultural exchange programmes between the two nations.

Do many Finnish tourists visit Kenya?

In 2010, 1,800 Finnish tourists visited Kenya. However, Thailand and Spain remain the favourite destinations for Finnish travellers. But with aggressive marketing, this number can be increased.

We also need to disseminate information on Finland so that more Kenyans would visit our country too. There are about 800 Kenyans living, working or studying in Finland. The number of registered Finns in Kenya is 300.

What can Kenya learn from Finland’s devolved system of governance?

In Finland, most public services are provided by municipalities like education, healthcare and infrastructure.

A team from Kenya has already visited Finland to study our devolution model. Devolution of governance is good because it encourages competition for investments between the counties hence increasing accountability and transparency at the local level.

Which are the areas of economic co-operation between Kenya and Finland?

Finland’s development assistance to Kenya is scheduled for next year to be around €16 million (Sh1.8 billion).

Finland emphasises four priority areas in its development cooperation: democratic and accountable society, an inclusive green economy that promotes employment, sustainable management of natural resources and human development capacity building.

The cross cutting objectives are promotion of gender equality, climate sustainability and reduction of inequality.

In August last year we launched the Programme for Agriculture and Livelihoods in Busia County. The Sh3.2 billion (€28 million) rural development project will invest in agribusiness, nutrition programmes, education and integrating persons with disability.

We also support the forestry sector in Kenya through the Miti Mingi Maisha Bora programme, a joint initiative with the Government of Kenya.

We are committing Sh1.86 billion to a project to improve livelihoods in arid and semi-arid lands through sustainable production and trade in bio-energy and other forest products.

The University of Helsinki and the University of Nairobi are currently in a joint research study on containing the challenge of aflatoxin in grains, especially maize.