On April 1, I presented my letters of credence to President Uhuru Kenyatta.
The warm words of welcome from the president were a reflection of the longstanding friendship between our two countries.
My first encounter with Kenya was in 1997-1998 while I worked in New York at the Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations.
At the time, Japan and Kenya were serving as non-permanent members of the Security Council.
Japan was seated next to Kenya and during those extremely busy days, I became good friends with my Kenyan colleagues, one of whom was First Secretary Amina Mohamed, currently the Cabinet Secretary for Sports, Heritage and Culture, who had then moved to New York as part of Kenya’s Security Council team.
I look forward to renewing our friendship after so many years. Japan appreciates Kenya’s positive role as an anchor of stability in East Africa.
The other day I visited the International Peace Support Training Centre of the Kenyan Defence Forces where Japan Self-Defence Force instructors conducted heavy engineering equipment training for 35 military personnel from Kenya, Uganda and Ghana.
The training was part of a UN initiative to strengthen peacekeeping Operations. Japan is one of its largest contributors.
We are also cooperating to promote the Free and Open Indo-Pacific (FOIP). The Kenya Coast Guard Service is using the 17 patrol vessels provided by Japan to maintain order in the sea.
As Japan expects to join the UN Security Council as a non-permanent member next year, I hope to further such cooperation.
This August, Japan will co-organise TICAD (Tokyo International Conference on African Development) 8 in Tunisia. Japan started organising TICAD with Heads of States of Africa in 1993 before other countries began to hold similar meetings.
As you may recall TICAD 6, the first meeting to be held in Africa, took place in Nairobi in 2016. This is a true sign of the genuine trust that exists between our two countries.
I am pleased to report that since 2016, the number of Japanese companies with operations in Kenya doubled to more than 100.
Remarkably, our business ties have expanded not only in numbers but also in scope from trade to local production and investment in Kenyan companies.
Personally, I am interested in connecting Japanese SMEs and startups with their Kenyan counterparts.
As you may know, Japan is facing depopulation. Many SMEs are based in the regions and specialise in sectors such as agricultural processing and machinery, environment and health.
Many are grappling with challenges such as shrinking local markets and a lack of skilled labour.
There is a potential for Kenya to benefit from their activities in Kenya and also for Japanese companies to benefit by finding new partners and expanding their businesses.
As part of preparations for TICAD 8, Japan and Kenya will co-organise the Japan-Africa Public-Private Economic Forum on May 3 in Nairobi.
The meeting will bring together ministers and business leaders from Japan and Africa, including Kenya. The meeting is sure to result in numerous new partnerships and projects.
Kenya is the largest recipient of Japan’s development assistance in sub-Sahara Africa. Our cooperation has been directed towards education, health, agriculture, energy, forestry and infrastructure, among others.
Based on Japan’s experience, human resource is the most important asset for a country’s development and hence, we attach high priority to education and health.
First, Japan has focused on mathematics and science in primary/secondary education and supported the Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology (JKUAT).
Second, Japan has supported the Kenya Medical Research Institute and Kenya’s effort to achieve universal healthcare. Our cooperation helped Kenya to better deal with Covid-19.
As a result of Japan’s assistance spanning several decades, Kenya now supports other African countries in education and health.
Japan appreciates Kenya’s proactive policy on climate change. Japan has long supported geothermal power generation in Olkaria.
Currently, nearly 40 per cent of Kenya’s geothermal power was developed with assistance from Japan, with an additional 134MW under construction.
Having trained over 300 persons, Kenya now has the capacity to develop, operate and maintain geothermal power, and is providing support to other countries.
Japan and Kenya concluded an agreement on Joint Crediting Mechanism to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG) with technologies and funding from Japan.
In February, there was a groundbreaking achievement as GHG credits were issued for the first time in Africa for a project to install a 1.6GWh solar PV system at a salt factory in Kilifi County.
Japan also assists in raising resilience against climate change. Our cooperation with KEFRI is contributing to the goal of 10 per cent forest cover and the introduction of improved varieties of trees adapted to arid and semi-arid areas.
Japan’s support for irrigation infrastructure and capacity building has contributed to higher productivity and an increase in rice production in Mwea.
Japan has a huge project for infrastructure development at the Mombasa Special Economic Zone.
The completion of the infrastructure has the potential to drastically improve connectivity with the Northern Corridor, promoting trade, investment and new industries.
The year 2023, being the 60th anniversary of Kenya’s independence, is also the 60th anniversary of our diplomatic relations.
It is an important opportunity to celebrate past achievements and to consider future cooperation.
I look forward to working closely with the Government and the people of Kenya to further promote our friendship and cooperation.
Ken Okaniwa is the Japanese Ambassador to Kenya