Jane served as the Deputy High Commissioner at Kenya’s Mission in Ottawa from 2015 to 2019. She served as a Commissioner with the Ethics and Anti-Corruption Commission in Nairobi from 2012 to 2015.
Kenya and Canada have enjoyed good diplomatic relations since 1963, at which point Kenya attained its independence from the U.K. Diplomatic relations between the two countries centre around political and economic relations, immigration processing and visa services, development cooperation, trade and business development, as well as modest defence and security cooperation.
Canada has its High Commission – one of the largest in Africa – in Nairobi, Kenya. Kenya also established a High Commission in Ottawa in 1978 with a mandate to promote, project and protect the image and interests of Kenya and the Kenyan community in Canada. (Kenya also joined the International Civil Aviation Organization in 2012, which is based in Montreal.)
Canada and Kenya strengthened their relationship recently through multiple high-profile engagements. For example, Kenya’s president, Uhuru Muigai Kenyatta, attended the G7 Summit held in Charlevoix in 2018. During this visit, Kenyatta and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau discussed a number of issues, all geared towards strengthening diplomatic relations.
Subsequently, Kenyatta attended the ‘Women Deliver’ Conference, held in Vancouver in June 2019. Before that, in November 2018, Canada and Kenya co-hosted the ‘Sustainable Blue Economy’ Conference in Nairobi. The conference addressed challenges like growing maritime economies of developing countries, the role of women in the so-called ‘blue economy,’ marine security, and climate change.
The two countries also boast a modest and productive trading relationship.
Kenya’s main exports to Canada include tea, coffee, and vegetables. Imports from Canada include clothing and textiles (widely marketed through the informal sector), motor vehicles, and aircrafts. Though mutually beneficial, the balance of trade highly favours Canada.
In 2018, for example, two-way merchandise trade reached $174.5 million, but consisted of $141.4 million in exports to Kenya and $33.1 million in imports.
Kenya has benefitted from international development assistance from Canada in line with the Feminist International Assistance Policy (FIAP). In 2017-’18, Canada provided $83.84 million in international assistance to Kenya. This assistance was designed to increase employment and economic opportunities in the country, especially for women, and sought to improve access to quality healthcare for women and children. Funds also went toward providing a safe, quality learning environment for children, and skills-building and technical and vocational training.
All this is good and well, but there is a real opportunity for the two countries to explore other opportunities outside existing engagements to further their development agenda.
Kenya, as an emerging middle power, can leverage its good diplomatic ties with Canada to realize “Kenya Vision 2030,” as well as the ‘Big Four Agenda.’
Kenya’s development blueprint, ‘Vision 2030,’ also envisions a “newly-industrializing, upper-middle income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens by 2030 in a clean and secure environment.” Kenya’s ‘Big Four Agenda,’ meanwhile, aims to strengthen key sectors such as manufacturing, food and nutrition security, universal health care (UHC), and affordable housing.
Canada, under the Liberal Party’s leadership, has made FIAP the cornerstone of its development assistance strategy. This policy, which puts women and girls at the forefront of its agenda, seeks to build a strong middle class through its key planks (namely, “gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls, human dignity, and growth that works for everyone,” manifested through investments in sustainable agriculture, renewable energy and green technology).
Given their well-aligned development aspirations, both Kenya and Canada share a common development agenda that is centred on building a strong middle class. Both countries could benefit from more frequent and deliberate diplomatic overtures, with Kenya taking the lead in this respect.
Healthcare and Nutrition
Kenya adopted UHC as one of its ‘Big Four’ agenda items. The aspiration is that, by 2022, everyone in Kenya will be able to use the essential services they need for their health and well-being through one unified benefit package.
Kenya aspires to subsidize the cost of all essential health services and reduce out-of-pocket medical expenses by 54% (as a percentage of household expenditure) by 2022. UHC entails access to safe and effective health care services, including essential medicines and vaccines for all.
However, there are several challenges in the health sector that may hinder the achievement of UHC in Kenya. The Global Burden of Disease initiative gives Kenya a ‘UHC index’ of 50% and predicts that by 2030 the country’s UHC index will be at 60%. For Kenya to achieve 100% UHC, it has to implement several initiatives; this could include borrowing some of Canada’s best practices (e.g., rejigging health subsidies and budgets, and striving for administrative ‘simplicity,’ and cost-effectiveness), and increasing dialogues with relevant partner countries, including Canada.
Kenya aspires to increase farmers’ average incomes and reduce malnutrition among children under 5-years-old. It is also striving to reduce the number of ‘food-insecure’ Kenyans by 50% as well as reduce the cost of food as a percentage of family income by 47% by 2022.
Kenya can learn from Canada’s approach to food security.
The Canadian Food Security Assistance Strategy, for example, is based on three points: food assistance and nutrition, sustainable agricultural development, and research and development.
Kenya could also collaborate with institutions such as the International Development and Research Centre and Food Secure Canada.
Canada has a food policy based on stakeholder cooperation – and assisted by Food Secure Canada – which advocates for the advancement of food security.
Kenya could benefit from close collaboration with Canada in developing a comprehensive food policy. As a major farming nation, collaboration with provinces like Saskatchewan, Alberta, Ontario, British Columbia, and Quebec could enable Kenya to tap into Canada’s knowledge and expertise of food production, particularly in fish farming, lentils, and livestock development. Kenya can cooperate with Canada on policy formulation, research, and collaboration with institutions such as the University of Alberta and others to enhance modern farming and increase food production and storage.
Kenya aspires to deliver 500,000 affordable homes across its 47 counties, reduce the cost of home ownership by 50%, the average cost of construction by 30%, and the low-income housing gap by 60% by 2022.
Canada has implemented strategies designed to enable its citizens to access affordable housing. These include the development of the first-ever National Housing Strategy, launched in 2017. The strategy seeks among other things to increase fairness in the housing market (by strengthening rules and compliance), increase housing supply through partnerships and targeted investments, and improve affordability by supporting first-time home buyers.
There are several opportunities that Kenya can explore using the good diplomatic relations it enjoys with Canada. The examples given here are not exhaustive. The two countries can realize their development agenda through mutual collaboration in various sectors.
Photo Credit: Prime Minister’s Office