UK's King Charles faces new Kenya in maiden visit today

During his maiden official visit to Kenya today, the United Kingdom's King Charles will confront a vastly different Nairobi than his mother Queen Elizabeth did.

The last time a British monarch visited Kenya, the Land Rover, manufactured by a British carmaker (now Indian owned), was the official Kenya government car.

Unilever, a United Kingdom-based fast-moving consumer goods manufacturer formerly known as East African Industries was the market leader.

And most Kenyans banked at Barclays. The British banking giant once straddled the Kenyan market like a colossus before the surprise sale of its African unit six years ago.

But today, King Charles faces a very changed Nairobi as he kicks off his maiden official visit.

Prominent British-linked corporations such as Barclays, Land Rover, Standard Chartered Bank, British American Tobacco, and Unilever are facing fierce competition from more assertive and adaptable rivals, a spot check shows.

This shift in the pecking order of foreign direct investment has intensified in recent years as many developed nations such as the United Kingdom have scaled back their foreign investments while emerging economies are actively seeking opportunities in frontier markets.

Economic shift

Kenya has made a major economic shift to Asia with its "Look East Policy", which is credited with attracting Asian capital to a series of major projects such as ports, highways and airports.

Despite this, Britain has been pushing back and attempting to find its former place of pride in relations with its former colony.

The new British monarch's visit is seen as crucial to the UK's bid to strengthen alliances, attract investment, make trade deals, and project soft power in Kenya.

The two countries signed a new trade agreement to safeguard annual trade after Brexit, and Britain remains one of the most important trading partners for Kenya, absorbing most of its cut flowers and fresh vegetables exports.

A significant proportion of Kenya's tea, cut flowers, and fresh vegetables are consumed by the British market.

In 2022, the United Kingdom imported a range of goods from Kenya, including tea, coffee, spices, vegetables, and cut flowers.

In exchange for these exports, Kenya receives machinery, cars, pharmaceuticals, and electronics from the UK. Kenya is widely recognized as a popular tourist destination for Britons, with the UK serving as a major source market for tourism in Kenya.

Kenya and Britain signed a new trade agreement that came into effect in March 2021 to safeguard annual trade after Brexit.

The agreement ensures that all companies operating in Kenya, including British businesses, can continue to benefit from duty-free access to the UK market - saving exporters over Sh1.5 billion (PS10 million) every year in duties on products such as green beans and cut flowers.

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