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Is Europe Kenya’s sincere friend or business partner?

By ERIC HABERS | June 23rd 2014

Altruism is not a fashionable word in development these days. The selfless concern for others is often not believed as a motive, or it’s misread as paternalism. Soon after arriving in Kenya, I was regularly asked why Europe is partnering with, and giving to Kenya and the Kenyan government.

My answer is: Europeans have both a good-willed concern for others and a selfish interest in global stability. I think it is worth examining these motives afresh in light of this week’s summit here in Nairobi when the European Union will meet dozens of governments from around the world to renew spending commitments on development.

Undoubtedly, citizens back in Europe, whose taxes we are obligated to spend transparently and effectively, have a selfish desire to prevent the next political instability, reduce costly conflict and illegal immigration, and increase commercial trading.

But the scale of Europe’s contribution to preventing the worst effects of humanitarian catastrophe is testament to something other than pure self-interest. The European humanitarian agency, Echo, is the largest provider of disaster relief in the world. There are thousands of other European organisations working around the world to alleviate poverty.

What does Europe look like to the many Kenyans who – directly or indirectly – benefit from Europe’s development partnership with the Kenyan government? Well, if you are a driver or businessperson using the Northern Corridor, you have benefitted from European development. If you and your family produce goods exported to Europe, you benefit from the strong European customer demand for Kenyan exports.

Beyond the big-ticket items like infrastructure and international trade, Europe is working to improve lives of the most marginalised in Kenya. If it is seen as an investment, it is long-term where the return is general security and stability, rather than directly financial. Nowhere is this truer than in meeting Kenya’s growing demand for food amid changing climate and increasing population.

A recent report by the African Development Bank and the UN was stark in its warning: “the country is highly vulnerable to climate change. Kenya faces the risk of a drop in annual precipitation and extreme weather patterns, predominantly via severe drought. Approximately 42 per cent of Kenya’s GDP and 70 per cent of employment is derived from natural resource-based sectors, including agriculture, water, energy, forestry and tourism.”

Sporadic rains and hunger tears communities apart and affects the poorest most. The European Union is spending Sh10 billion over the next four years to enhance food production and reduce the impact of drought. We were the first to partner with the National Drought Management Authority, backed an innovative insurance scheme for herders in the arid North and are helping pastoralists discover new livelihoods in Turkana.

Drought turns into a real food problem when communities aren’t prepared. The European Union gave Sh500 million in funding last week to a drought contingency fund be deployed immediately by counties to prevent and respond to drought conditions.

Fundamentally though, it will be in growing more food that Kenya finds resilience to climate shocks. That requires a business-like approach and innovation. For many years, the European Union has supported applied research to create drought resistant strains of cassava and sorghum. The latter crop has grown explosively in Eastern, where the ground is dry and maize has proved unreliable.

Support to poverty alleviation goes beyond food security into the health and education sectors. To pick just a few examples; there is the Spanish government’s support to fighting HIV and Aids, our Kenya-wide programme to improve maternal and child health, and the UK’s Sh1.2 billion annual support to education.

More than ever before, Europe’s development spending to Kenya goes through and is in alignment with the Kenyan government’s vision. That is a billion dollars of annual development spending that, whatever you may think of the motive, is spent to meet Kenya’s own intentions.

The writer is Head of Development Co-operation at the European Union in Kenya

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