Japan-Kenya Relations Threatened

Published on 7th September 2015

Kenya should invest in its relationship with Japan and shun from treating Japan as second fiddle as it has contributed greatly towards the economic development of Kenya since independence. The on-going disquiet between Japan and Kenya on the tendering process of the Kenya Ports Authority (KPA) Concession and grant assistance can jeopardise the long term friendship that both Japan and Kenya have enjoyed for decades.

Japan gave the funds for the rehabilitation and construction of Kenya Ports Authority’s Second terminal. The country has raised concerns over KPA’s tendering process especially certain rules and conditions that were suddenly introduced in favour of certain companies. This undermines the spirit and principles of grant assistance agreements already signed by the two countries.

The recent visit to Kenya by leading Japanese top executives is commendable. It is shameful that the Kenya does not take such opportunities seriously just like other African Heads of State  during international forums and meetings such as TICAD, FOCACC, and US - Africa Summit. From reliable sources, Japanese business Executives were treated like school children. They were clamped together and asked to raise their hands to ask questions for five minutes and not given ample time to present their companies and interest in doing business in Kenya. Most of them are top businesses not only in Japan but in the whole world with high net value, capability and capacity to sponsor or even run a whole economy like that of Kenya.

Not only did the function start late, but also the programs were changed mid-way without explanation or apologies. Despite their tight and business schedules, the business Executives flew in a few hours before the function to attend the forums because of their commitment, dedication and great value for Kenya.

You don’t fly all the way in a first class to a forum or a meeting where you are only allowed five minutes to ask a question and not to comment and yet you are a top business operator in the world interested in making profit and seeing a partner develop to another level.

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and International Trade should seriously conduct a SWOT analysis to re-evaluate the foreign policy of the country to ensure that opportunities of the moment are captured and not taken lightly and casually. It is counterproductive to treat great friends like Japan and other developing partners casually for decrying corruption. Japan has developed to become a world economic power because of hard work, strong economic and leadership policies and integrity. Kenya has a lot to learn from Japan.

Japan is scheduled to hold its Sixth Tokyo International Conference on Development (TICAD VI) summit in Nairobi, Kenya next year in September. Kenya will become the first African nation to hold the forum which has been held in Japan since its inception five years ago as a framework to enhance and promote development, relationship and trade between Japan and Africa. It might become too late for Kenya to attract any foreign investments in the country if it does not change its ways of making itself more appealing for investments.

I was privileged to attend a special dinner in honour of African Presidents and Heads of States nearly three years ago by Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe during the TICAD V conference in Yokohama, Japan. The entire Japanese government including former Prime Minister Mori, Presidents, Chairmen and Chief Executives of leading Corporates in Japan attended unlike recently when I attended a special dinner hurriedly organised for Japanese business Executives at Intercontinental hotel which was hardly attended by prominent Kenyan business men and women, Cabinet Secretaries and top government representatives except Cabinet Secretary for Foreign Affairs Amina Mohammed and  a handful Kenyans connected to the Japanese companies like Ambassador  Awori and Isaac Kalua.

The Kenyan leadership must become serious with issues and not play around with important occasions with lots of potential for the development of the country. As Kenyans, we should be ready to tap into existing opportunities instead of wasting much time on non-issues.

By Denise A. O. Kodhe,
Director General,
Institute for Democracy & Leadership in Africa- IDEA.

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