The British Trade Commissioner for Africa, Emma Wade-Smith, recently made a virtual visit to Kenya during which she discussed with government officials and business leaders how the UK and Kenya are working together to respond to the Covid-19 pandemic and shape a strong economic recovery. She spoke to the Business Daily about the visit and other aspects of the UK-Kenya relations.
WHAT DID THE VIRTUAL VISIT AIM TO ACHIEVE?
My visit comes at a catalytic time for Kenya. The Covid-19 pandemic has had a dramatic impact on the global economy. While we are still working together to respond to this, we must also turn our attention to how we recover, rebuilding better. We have a clear moment now to choose a greener, more inclusive and sustainable future.
APART FROM THE BRITISH CHAMBER OF COMMERCE KENYA, WHO ELSE ATTENDED THE VIRTUAL VISIT?
I had a packed programme, digitally beaming into boardrooms and government offices from my home in Johannesburg. I met entrepreneurs and business groups. We discussed the importance of innovation and resilience in responding to the challenges and emerging opportunities that the pandemic creates.
I provided an update to Kenya’s key exporters on UK trade policy. I also met with the ministries of the East Africa Community and Energy. We talked about the importance of establishing clarity for business and going even further in creating a business environment that enables companies to sustain and create jobs; expand their investments; and help to rebuild Kenya’s economy.
WHAT DID YOU AIM TO ACHIEVE IN YOUR MEETING WITH THE PRIVATE SECTOR?
The private sector is of course crucial to Kenya’s economic wellbeing. My meetings provided an opportunity to explain how the UK and Kenyan governments are working together — including with the private sector — to minimise the economic damage caused by Covid-19. This includes the UK’s support to Kenya’s Business Situation Room, which is helping to support manufacturers and SMEs through a business hotline and developing procedures to enable companies to reopen safely.
The private sector is incredibly dynamic; so we also talked about how companies have responded to the pandemic, including through supporting their workforce and in some cases refocusing their business operations.
I also heard from British investors and employers in Kenya about the inspiring things that they are doing here. Azuri is providing off-grid solar energy so that children in rural parts of Kenya can access the government’s TV education. Waitrose has partnered with Farm Africa and donated Sh10.5m to support Kenyan suppliers and protect workers and their families through the provision of healthcare and childcare. Unilever is running a Covid-19 awareness and hygiene campaign in Kenya.
WOMEN'S CONTRIBUTION TO ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT IS OFTEN NEGLECTED. WHAT IS THE UK DOING TO ENHANCE THE PLACE OF WOMEN IN KENYA'S ECONOMY?
It’s an important question and something that I feel very passionately about. The evidence is clear that economies where women are able to play an equal part — working in, investing in and building companies — are more successful and prosperous. So I thoroughly enjoyed reconnecting with some of the Kenyan female entrepreneurs who attended the UK-Africa Investment Summit in London earlier this year.
We know that women are disproportionately affected by the economic impact of Covid-19. So the UK’s longstanding support for women in the economy has taken on renewed urgency.
The UK-Kenya Tech Hub and the UK-funded Frontier Tech Hub are working directly with female entrepreneurs in Kenya. As an example of what they are doing, female entrepreneurs have received funding worth nearly Sh2 million to help scale their businesses, supported by the prestigious UK Royal Academy of Engineering.
THE PANDEMIC HAS HAD A DEBILITATING IMPACT ON VARIOUS SECTORS IN KENYA, INCLUDING TOURISM, TRANSPORT AND MANUFACTURING.
The UK government and business leaders are playing a central role in the Covid-19 response in Kenya.
Maintaining trade and protecting supply chains has been a top UK priority. Our work with British Airways and Kenya Airways has meant frequent cargo flights between London and Nairobi have resumed, protecting Kenyan jobs and livelihoods in agriculture, and British shelves stocked with Kenyan produce. The UK is also providing technical assistance to the Ministry of Industry and Trade to advise on how best to support businesses through this difficult time.
But a challenge of this scale needs global coordination. With significant UK backing, Kenya is receiving Sh106.8 billion from the World Bank and Sh79 billion from the IMF to ensure the government has the emergency support to protect jobs and businesses. Good governance was at the heart of discussions with our partners about this support, so every shilling is spent transparently.
THE UK HAD SAID THAT DURING THIS BREXITTRANSITION PERIOD, IT WILL ENGAGE THE EAC TO SECURE A TRADE AGREEMENT. WHAT IS THE STATUS OF THESE TALKS?
The UK is committed to ensuring trade continuity between the UK and Kenya. To ensure that Kenyan exports continue to enter the UK on favourable duty-free terms, we are working hard to secure a long-term trade agreement.
Given Kenya’s membership at the heart of the East African Community and the Single Customs territory, we want to negotiate this agreement with the EAC as a whole, to support the region’s integration. I had a very constructive discussion about this with Cabinet Secretary for the EAC during my visit.
WHICH OPPORTUNITIES FOR TRADE DOES THE UK SEE IN THE THE AFRICAN CONTINENTAL FREE TRADE AREA PACT?
The UK fully supports the AfCFTA, which has the potential to bring significant benefits across the whole of Africa. We are providing support through several channels. First, through technical assistance to the African Union Commission negotiating team. Second, through our funding to TradeMark East Africa (TMEA), based here in Kenya, which continues to work to reduce barriers to regional trade. And third, we are supporting trade policy development and research, including impact assessments, in countries across Africa.
WHAT DO YOU SEE AS THE KEY AREAS FOR BOOSTING TRADE AND INVESTMENT BETWEEN KENYA AND THE UK?
We want to focus on creating a better business environment for the future, with the green economy and technology at its heart. The UK is already providing over Sh1.46 billion worth of support on climate in Kenya, leveraging our expertise in climate legislation, green finance, and clean energy – underpinned by world-leading climate science, technology and innovation.
We want to work with Kenya to build an economy and create jobs that are climate-resilient, low-carbon and environmentally sustainable. That means setting up the right regulatory framework for the renewable energy sector to grow and thrive.
It means committing to a consistent business environment that encourages long-term investment. And it means making the decisions now to shape an economy that will be strong and successful for decades to come.
I’m optimistic about the UK-Kenya trading and investment relationship, and look forward to our close partnership continuing as part of Kenya’s longer-term Covid-19 recovery.