Outgoing British envoy advocates empowerment of girls, women

Kisii Governor Simba Arati gifted the outgoing British High Commissioner to Kenya Jane Marriott on April 18, 2023. [Courtesy, Standard]

Outgoing UK High Commissioner Jane Marriott has highlighted the significant role Kenya plays in regional politics, and called for greater women empowerment.

The diplomat expressed her admiration for Kenya's contribution to regional stability.

Marriott, who succeeded Neil Wigan, currently the UK ambassador in Israel, said there are a lot of expectations on Kenya from the world, some of them fair, some of them unfair.

"And one of the things that I've seen Kenya do, both under the previous administration and under this administration, is increasingly taking its regional and continental global roles forward," she said. 

Marriott's career

Marriot, who started her career in 2003 working on nuclear weapons-related issues, was sent to Iraq at 27 and then Yemen, before coming to Kenya. She said she witnessed firsthand the country's active engagement in regional politics during her tenure.

"I always say that in my career, I've had many, many good days. A lot of bad days. But I've never had a boring day. And this was no exception," Marriott said, adding, "I'm from Yorkshire, so I don't like to be too generous with my praise."

In an exclusive interview with KTN's Global Traktion show host Persil Telewa, she said that Kenya's government takes global issues seriously to address conflict and promote peace and development in the region and beyond. 

Marriott shared stories of individuals whose resilience touched her soul, from remote villages to bustling urban centres, saying that her encounters with ordinary Kenyans portrayed the extraordinary strength that women possess when allowed to thrive.

She highlighted Kenya's involvement in regional and continental affairs, including its seat on the UN Security Council, emphasising Kenya's leadership in promoting peace and stability.

"And that's one of the things I've been delighted to see as Kenya has had its seat on the Security Council. The more activist role it's taking in the AU the EAC," she said.

"I got to bring about that I think the phrase African solutions to African problems can only really be said by an African because if a Muzungu says it.... it can come across as a bit patronising, but it's true who better to sort out the challenges in a neighbourhood than the people who live there who know the situation."

She lauded Kenya's efforts in shaping the political landscape of East Africa and its commitment to peacebuilding, conflict resolution and other initiatives to protect human rights and improve people’s lives.

She said Kenya's role as a vital player in promoting stability and cooperation within the region has not gone unnoticed and called for more women in the peace process.

"I believe in the potential of Kenya. It is a country for which so much is still possible if it can make and create those opportunities," the ambassador said. 

Marriott stressed the urgent need for women's empowerment in Kenya.

Recognizing the significant role women play in society, she emphasised that their full participation in all aspects of life, including politics, economics, and decision-making, is crucial for the country's sustainable development. Marriott commended Kenya's progress in this regard while encouraging further efforts to ensure equal opportunities and rights for women. 

Kenya is a home

Marriott praised Kenyans as being welcoming. She acknowledged the warm culture, hospitality, and inclusiveness she experienced during her diplomatic tenure. 

She cited Kenya's rich resources, vibrant cultural heritage and entrepreneurial spirit as the key drivers for its promising future. 

"So in many ways, I'm happy that I've had the opportunity to live in a great place like Kenya, but also really, really sad that I'm leaving. I remember when I arrived.

"So many people said to me, you'll never want to leave. You'll want to stay and I thought, don't be ridiculous. I've worked in many countries. I've enjoyed each one... I've never wanted to stay. I'll be able to kind of cut and leave, but no... Kenya got my heart I'm afraid."

The ambassador praised Kenya as a good home. 

"That I have to confess to a particular fondness for the Maasai Mara, of course, but also Amboseli. I think my favourite place in the world is Lamu Island. Yes, I've been lucky enough to have a look at these," she said.

She said that the kindness, resilience and openness of the Kenyan people contribute to the country's allure to visitors.

"So in many ways, I'm happy that I've had the opportunity to live in a great place like Kenya, but also really, really sad that I'm leaving," she said.

Growth opportunities

As she bid farewell to Kenya, Marriott expressed her gratitude for the opportunities she had to witness firsthand the progress and achievements of the country.

She urged continued collaboration and strengthened ties between the United Kingdom and Kenya, emphasizing the importance of ongoing cooperation to address global challenges and promote mutual prosperity.

Despite the challenges Kenya faces, Marriott expressed her confidence in the country's ability to overcome them and seize opportunities for growth.

She said she is happy the UK is moving to an electronic visa system over the next couple of years.

"So decisions will be made centrally, not in Pretoria anymore," she said.

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