The WB chief who loves Kenya

September 10, 2009 12:00 am

, NAIROBI, Kenya, Sep 10 – When he learnt that he had been appointed the World’s Bank Country Director for Kenya, Rwanda, Comoros, Somalia, Eritrea and Seychelles, Johannes Zutt was excited. The Dutch national who would be based in Nairobi, was coming back to a country he fell in love with over 19 years ago.

Capital News had an interview with the Director who replaced Colin Bruce and who’s term became effective in mid January.

Q: Please tell us, who’s Johannes Zutt?

A: I’m currently the Country Director of the World Bank but I started as a university professor here at the University of Nairobi in 1990. I came here because I fell in love with a woman who described herself as an Africanist. She was very keen to move to Africa and work in Africa and did eventually take a job here with UNICEF.

We had three children together, the first one Madeline was born at the Nairobi Hospital in 1992, we subsequently moved to the United States where we had a boy, Nicholas who’s 15 now and then (moved) to Mali where Alexander was born and after that to Tanzania.

Q: You speak of your wife in past tense…

A: My first wife died in Tanzania and that’s how I moved back to the United States and became a staff member of the World Bank.

I subsequently met another woman who also has a passion for Africa Donatella Lorch she was the New York Times Bureau Chief here in the mid 1990s. She didn’t spend a lot of time in Kenya because the Rwanda genocide and the Somalia invasion by the United States took her away from here but she loves Kenya as well. We were both very keen to find a way to come back and we finally succeeded in January of this year.

We have a child between us, Lucas who’s 4years old. When we first brought him here in February and showed him what it was like, he ran out into the garden the day after he arrived and started running around in his pyjamas. I said it to him ‘Lucas do you like Kenya?’ He said, ‘No I don’t like Kenya. I love Kenya’.

Q: Do you get time to show your children around Kenya?

A: Absolutely. That’s a very important part of the reason why we are here. When we brought the children here, we went to the Rift Valley and we stayed in a fairly remote lodge which was essentially a large farm with all the beauty that Kenya has to offer; animals, flora, flowers, the trees….the kids went horseback riding, they went swimming, they had a great time.

Kenya has tremendous natural beauty, the people are incredibly friendly, very hard working and there are few places on earth that rival Kenya from those points of view so we are very very happy to be back here again.

Q: How long is your term?

A: A country director of the World Bank is typically in his or her position for a three to five year-period. I’m still in my first year and obviously I’d like to stay for the whole five years and beyond if I can manage.

Q: What are some of the challenges you envisage as you take on your job?

A: Kenya is a developing country which has all the challenges that a developing countries have. There are a lot of people who have a very high capacity but they are probably not as many as one would like to have in a country with a population of almost 40 million and the very difficult challenges that it faces.

Incomes per capital are very low, the Gross Domestic Product of the country is very low, and the ability of Kenya to finance its development out of its own resources is therefore limited.

What we need to do as the World Bank and as a partner to the people of Kenya in seeking its development is to help identify additional resources including from the World Bank that can be used for that purpose but also to prioritize among the many development challenges that the country needs to address and help figure out exactly what to do in each of those different areas.

Q: What does this entail?

What we are focusing on now is road rehabilitation particularly the Northern corridor, energy generation, identifying a new urban water supply for the city of Nairobi where 50 percent of the country’s wealth is generated and also ensure that health and education service delivery is as good as it can be so that the people of Kenya can acquire the skills and the knowledge they need to contribute to their own development and also live healthy and happy lives.

Q: What achievements would you like to have had by the time your term come to an end?

A: What I would most like to see is an environment that allows business to expand, to reach new markets not just in Kenya but also in the wider East African Community and beyond so that these businesses can grow, create jobs so that we get more higher levels of employment and more people permanently lifted out of poverty.

Q: What kind of a relationship would you like to see between the World Bank and the Kenyan government?

A: We do have a great relationship with the government. We are active in many different sectors. We have strong dialogue with for example the ministries of education, health, and energy and also with the Treasury and the Internal Auditing department.

We are looking for areas where for areas where we can agree on the direction the country should be going in and where we on the World Bank side have both the financing and expertise that the government can use to achieve Vision 2030 and the prosperity that Kenyans are looking for.

Q: You are also the Country Director of Comoros, Rwanda, Somalia, Eritrea and Seychelles. What plans do you have for them?

Well there are quite diverse group of countries facing very different types of challenges. Rwanda has been doing quite well from a development perspective since the genocide in 1994. it has a very visionary leadership that is eager to learn that values very highly the advice that it gets from the international community and that works very hard to implement that advice where it is consistent with its own development plans and as a result, we’ve seen very encouraging progress across all sectors.

Seychelles is a very small Island country. It developed some very serious fiscal problems last (fiscal) year. We are helping the government there to sort out those problems and revise its programming so that the economy is put on a firmer footing.

In the case of Comoros and other poor island countries we are working with government to help it to get debt relief because its debt burden is currently very heavy and it seems unfair for a country where people are living in such poverty to have to struggle very hard every month to service debts to development agencies such as ourselves.

In the case of Somalia, we are trying to support the transitional federal government to consolidate its power, to achieve some quick wins through programs such as child health and animal health program and also to attract more support from those parties that have been outside of government in the past and have had a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.


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