DR CHRISTIAN TURNER
The modern-day relationship between the United Kingdom and Kenya is deep and abiding. We are bound together by strong ties that benefit both our countries.
The figures tell their own story: in excess of Sh155bn a year in trade, the largest partner outside East Africa; military cooperation worth Sh8.64bn a year; Sh16.34bn in aid investment to help the poorest and create jobs, a 50percent increase in recent years; five of the largest taxpayers and the two largest private sector employers in Kenya are British companies; and the largest number of visitors from any country are from the UK.
Some in recent months have questioned that shared interest. To address that, I would like to tell a story of two animals. One summer’s day, when the earth lay scorched beneath the sun, a lion and a buffalo came at the same moment to a watering hole to drink. Both wished to drink first, and were soon locked in combat. On stopping for an instant to gather their strength, they saw some vultures circling up above, waiting to feast upon the one which should fall first. They at once stopped their quarrel, saying: “It is better for us to work together than to become a meal for the vultures.”
The allegory is simple. There have been many rumours surrounding the recent travel advisory issued by the UK Government which cautioned against all but essential travel to Mombasa Island and its immediate surrounds, and the temporary closure of our one-person consular office in Mombasa.
Let me be clear: this was driven solely by our objective assessment of the threat faced by British nationals there, an assessment shared with the Kenyan authorities. The change was not driven by political or economic factors. We did not evacuate anyone; nor did our advice for the rest of the country change. Our level of advice for Nairobi, or for that matter Kenya’s safari destinations, has not changed for two years. 300 Britons left on the instruction of their tour company, but 25,000 remain. Britain is not abandoning Kenya, and remains here for the long haul.
What concerns me most are some of the myths which circulated about the advisory change.
The first myth is that Britain wants “regime change” in Kenya. The UK was the first Government to congratulate the Jubilee administration on winning the 2013 election. We were the first to invite President Uhuru Kenyatta to travel abroad, to attend the London Somalia conference in May 2013.
The democratically elected Government of Kenya will be in power until at least August 2017, and the UK is committed to working with it to achieve our shared goals. We do so in a climate which allows for a strong opposition, space for civil society, a free media, respect for human rights and an end to impunity, the rollout of devolution, tackling corruption and full implementation of Kenya’s remarkable Constitution. In all of this our goals and those of the government and people of Kenya are closely aligned.
The second myth is that there is a competition between East and West in Kenya. Today is not the cold war or the Great Game of the nineteenth century. This is a multi-polar world where all countries benefit from a rise in foreign investment. There is no binary choice between East and West; Kenya should make investment decisions purely on what is most in Kenya’s interests. I welcome China’s investment in Kenya. It will bring jobs and infrastructure which will benefit UK interests and businesses.
The third myth is that the UK will abandon Kenya to face the threat of terrorism alone. The terrorist threat is a global one. None are immune. The wounds from Westgate are still raw, and the tragic events in Mpeketoni only harden our resolve to stand shoulder to shoulder with Kenyans in our shared efforts to tackle this threat.
The UK is committed to strengthening Kenya’s capacity to counter this threat through assistance on investigating, prosecuting and detaining terrorists in line with international Human Rights standards. Actions to seek out suspected terrorists must not undermine community and national cohesion, nor risk pushing a new group of young people towards radicalisation. Muslims make up over 15pc of the Kenyan population, who want peace and stability like other Kenyans.
We cannot allow myths and conspiracies to distract us from where our combined efforts need to be. It is essential that engagement on all sides is carried out in a spirit of collaboration, calm, national unity, and rejection of all forms of violence. Those who engineer insecurity do so to diminish confidence and stability, and to adversely affect economic growth and prosperity. Our response must be resolute. It is time for all of us to stand together. In doing so, we will deny the Vultures their day.
(Dr Turner is the British High Commissioner to Kenya)