Kenya is considered a democratic and economic role model in Africa, but terror attacks and a corrupt state are tarnishing the country’s image, says Michael Gahler, outlining Kenya’s future prospects and enormous economic potential. EURACTIV Germany reports.
Michael Gahler (CDU) has been a Member of the European Parliament since 1999, where serves on the Committee of Foreign Affairs and is chairman of the Delegation for relations with the Pan-African Parliament. He spoke with EURACTIV Germany’s Dario Sarmadi.
Terror attacks in Kenya have become more frequent recently, causing tourism to suffer and President Kenyatta to lose public support. Is Kenya in political and economic decline?
The security situation in Kenya is troubling. Islamist al-Shabaab militants operating in Somalia are spreading their reach to Kenya, also recruiting new fighters there. Less and less tourists are choosing to travel to Kenya, and this trend is steadily growing.
What should Kenyan political actors be doing to deal with this situation?
The government should restore a feeling of security, particularly at seaside resorts. Tourists must regain trust in the country. This can be achieved by restructuring security forces. The police must be better trained and receive special training for anti-terror procedures.
How do you assess the country’s political system?
The administrative and government leadership must be improved. State structures are inefficient and corrupt. Kenya has had stable growth rates for many years but the national debt is around 8% and investments in the health and education systems are inadequate.
What kind of presence does the EU have in Kenya?
From a development policy standpoint, we are supporting precisely these areas: education and health. Although there are good initiatives in Kenya, girls should have the right and the ability to attend school all the way to the university level. As European partners, we can offer more support to realise this. The same goes for the healthcare system. We must continue to work towards reducing the mortality rate and the danger of infectious diseases.
Besides the EU, the German government also supports projects in Kenya. Do the two approaches complement each other?
Ambassadors and implementing organisations for development aid do coordinate with each other locally. Sometimes it works well, sometimes not.
What kind of economic cooperation exists between the EU and Kenya?
For years, Kenya has been an important African trade partner to the EU. Traditional export products are coffee and cut flowers. So far Kenya has enjoyed tariff-free export to the EU for most of its products.
Are there other potential markets in Kenya that might be interesting for German companies?
Renewables have a future in the sunny location of Kenya. The country is hoping for decentralised expansion of regenerative energy sources, like solar or wind. That is where we, as Germans, come in with relevant know-how and experience. Meanwhile we must be sure that Kenyans gain locally from the energy boom and are not exploited as is the case in Nigeria.
In many African countries, China has become the most important economic partner. Will that happen in Kenya as well?
We are competing with China everywhere, where there is an abundance of raw materials: in Congo or in other states in the Sahel region. In Kenya there is not much that China desires. On the other hand, the Chinese are successfully bringing their products to Kenya for retail trade. That is something China has really mastered.
Would you encourage German companies to do business in Kenya?
Definitely in trade. In that area there is stable infrastructure that functions well. Other markets, such as renewables and road construction, also seem very promising. But at the same time I consider it risky to invest in markets that are still very young.
Kenya must create stable investment conditions: good education for skilled personnel, a stronger and more predictable rule of law as well as quick and reliable administration.