In any diplomat’s career, certain events stand out as highlights that are an honour and a privilege to participate in. One such event is when your country marks an important anniversary in its relationship with a host nation. It is a great pleasure as the 20th ambassador of Japan to Kenya to note that this year, 2023, marks the 60th anniversary of the diplomatic relations between Kenya and Japan.
In 1963, Kenya was a very different place from what it is now. And so was Japan. In the case of my country, we had just begun to get over the devastation of the Second World War and embark on what economists refer to as the “Japanese economic miracle” (1960s to 1980s). This period of rapid economic growth saw Japan rise from economic ruin to become the world’s second-largest economy. As Japan prospered, it extended support to countries in Asia and Africa in need of development assistance.
This led to the creation of the Japan International Cooperation Agency (JICA) in 1974. Kenya is the largest recipient of Japan’s Official Development Assistance in sub-Saharan Africa. Based on the priorities of the Kenyan government, our cooperation focused on top priority areas such as infrastructure, energy, industry, agriculture, health, education, forestry, environment and regional stability, among others.
The results of the 60 years of cooperation are visible in many areas. Infrastructure development projects such as the Mombasa Port Development Project, the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone, the Ngong Road Expansion Project, the construction of the Olkaria Geothermal Power Stations and the Mwea Irrigation Development Project have played a significant role in enhancing development, standards of living and employment opportunities for Kenyans.
In addition, Japan has played a key role in the establishment and capacity building of important institutions such as JKUAT, KEMRI and KEFRI. It is notable that, as a result of Japan’s support, Kenya now provides training to counterparts from other African countries in some of these areas.
Since 1964, Japan has dispatched 1,757 Japan Overseas Cooperation Volunteers who live and work among the Kenyan local communities with a view to contribute to socio-economic development. Japan has also received many Kenyan experts for training in Japan since 1963.
The 60th anniversary is an occasion to renew our friendship. Some outstanding individuals have contributed to promoting our friendship. Kenya’s renowned Nobel Peace Prize winner, Prof. Wangari Maathai made numerous visits to Japan to promote cooperation at the grassroots level on environmental issues and promoted the Japanese spirit of “Mottainai” (a Japanese word that describes 3R: Reduce, Reuse, Recycle) in the international community.
The Sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (TICAD 6) held Nairobi in 2016 was a historic milestone in the Kenya-Japan relations as it was the first time the summit was held outside Japan.
The participation of a large number of Japanese executives at the meeting at TICAD 6 raised their interest in investing and doing business in Kenya. As a result, the number of Japanese companies doing business in Kenya doubled in the last five years to more than 100 at present.
At TICAD 8 in August 2022, Prime Minister Kishida Fumio reiterated Japan’s commitment to continue as “a partner growing together with Africa”, and pledged $30 billion in public and private funding over the next three years. In view of the importance of the relations between our two countries, our cooperation and friendship will continue to flourish.