The Japan-Kenya friendship is based on shared values

Ambassador Okaniwa Ken makes his address during a reception to celebrate Emperor Naruhito's 64th birthday. Left, Prime CS Musalia Mudavadi. [X/@JapaninKenya]

On 23 February, Japan celebrated the 64th birthday of His Majesty Emperor Naruhito.

The Emperor’s birthday is an important national holiday in Japan but is sometimes celebrated on different days in various parts of the world by the Embassy of Japan in these countries.

Under the Constitution, the Emperor is the symbol of the country and of the unity of the people. The Emperor continues to command the highest respect of the people, embodying “continuity” of our culture and traditions.

And so I am very grateful that so many of our Kenyan friends as well as ambassadors from other countries were able to join us to celebrate this special occasion, including the Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi, who accompanied President William Ruto on an official visit to Japan from February 6 to 9.

During his stay in Japan, President Ruto and the First Lady of Kenya paid a courtesy call on Their Majesties the Emperor and Empress. This was followed by an Imperial Banquet. Having attended the Imperial Banquet myself, I am glad to say that the occasion was a reflection of the very warm friendship that exists between our two countries.

The meeting between the Prime Minister of Japan and President Ruto was the second meeting as an earlier meeting had taken place in May 2023 in Nairobi. Reflecting their friendship, the meeting was conducted in a very cordial atmosphere. I would like to share with you some of the highlights of the meeting, some of which are of a historic nature.

First, Prime Minister Fumio Kishida and President Ruto agreed to strengthen economic relations. The two governments signed the Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) to promote Public Private Partnership on infrastructure; a MOC on cooperation on ICT; and an MoU on Samurai Bonds.

At TICAD-8 in August 2022, Prime Minister Kishida referred to Japan’s aspiration to be a “partner growing together with Africa”. Based on the three documents, it is expected that the level of Japanese private sector involvement in Kenya will be raised further, thereby accelerating Kenya’s economic growth.     

For your information, the issuance of the Samurai Bond by the Government of Kenya, made possible with the support of Nippon Export and Investment Insurance (NEXI), is expected in the near future. Kenya will be the first country in sub-Saharan Africa to achieve this, contributing to the diversification of Kenya’s loan portfolio and helping to increase confidence of the financial markets.

The President pledged to accelerate construction of the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone and the Mombasa Gate Bridge. The completion of these mega-projects will be a major “game-changer” for the region generating investment, jobs, and economic growth.

Second, the two leaders concurred to further strengthen defence cooperation and to work together towards peace and stability in the Indo-Pacific and Africa. On this occasion, the Statement of Intent on defence cooperation was signed by the two governments, which is the first of its kind for Japan with an African country.

Third, the two leaders agreed to cooperate in the international arena. They shared the importance of upholding the rules-based international order and not tolerating attempts to unilaterally change the status quo by force.

Japan and Kenya exchanged notes on Japan’s grant assistance to the Kenya Medical Research Institute (Kemri) amounting to about Sh3 billion. Kemri’s new laboratory will enhance its capacity to promote health not only in Kenya but in other African countries. This is a shining example of what Prime Minister Kishida mentioned in the discussion with President Ruto as our two countries working together for “co-creation” of solutions to global issues.

The President engaged with many top executives of major Japanese companies. The Kenya-Japan Business Forum organised by JETRO[MY1]  was attended by many Japanese and Kenyan corporate leaders. In addition, the President had numerous meetings with Japanese companies.

I am hopeful that the visit will lead to increased involvement of Japanese companies in Kenya in the coming years.

President Ruto’s visit also attracted the attention of the Japanese press. The press informed the Japanese about the longstanding friendship between our two countries and the importance of Kenya as an “anchor” of the East African region. Kenya’s role in the international community is ever more important as the world is currently more divided than before.

In the past years, the presidents of Kenya have visited Japan many times for the Tokyo International Conference for African Development meetings and other multilateral occasions. But the last time a Kenyan president visited Japan on a bilateral official visit was in 2004.

The visit by the Japanese Prime Minister to Nairobi last year reciprocated by President Ruto in the period of under one year is an extremely rare occurrence, probably the first time in the history of Japan-Africa relations. As the 20th Ambassador of Japan to Kenya, I feel lucky to be part of such an historic achievement.

In my view, this was only possible because our two countries share basic values such as democracy and rule of law, and also because of the longstanding friendship and cooperation during the last 60 years.

I wish to thank the President, Prime Cabinet Secretary Musalia Mudavadi and all those who have contributed to the historic visit. I look forward to continuing working with the Kenyan government to follow up on the visit so that various plans are turned into action.

On March 3, Kenyan male runners came first, second and third  at the Tokyo Marathon. I congratulate them and Kenya for this outstanding result. My wish is that not just the athletes but more and more Kenyans will have an opportunity to visit Japan. By increasing people-to-people exchanges, the bond of friendship will be further strengthened and both countries will benefit from their experiences.

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