Kenya-Switzerland ties stronger, 50 years on

Friday, May 8th, 2020 00:00 |
Uhuru Kenyatta
President Uhuru Kenyatta. Photo/File

Dr Thomas Oertle       

Exactly two months ago, a Kenyan citizen travelled back to Nairobi from abroad.

A week later, she became the first case that tested positive for Covid-19 in Kenya. 

The country is probably still at the beginning of the pandemic, which has revealed a frightening propensity to lay bare the strengths and weaknesses of governance systems all over the world.

Kenya can build on a number of inherent assets, but is confronted also with some limitations in today’s fight against that deadly virus.

An undeniable force of the Kenyan society is its innovation and entrepreneurial capacity.

Within the blink of an eye, Kenyan businesses have switched their production: textile manufacturers fabricate locally over 60 million protective masks and suits; and distilleries and breweries provide thousands of hectolitres of ethanol to local sanitiser companies.

The well-established mobile and tech-savviness of Kenyans could turn out to be an asset in both prevention and response to the virus. 

Nairobi has proved yet again to be a crucial regional hub for East Africa during this time.

Neighbouring countries, still devoid of the necessary laboratory infrastructure or of trained staff to perform their own Covid-19 testing, ship their samples to Nairobi for testing.

However, despite being a lower middle-income country, one of Kenya’s Achilles heels is its extreme socio-economic disparities and geographic inequality. 

It also so happens that this week we marked the 50th anniversary of the signing of bilateral cooperation agreement between Kenya and Switzerland.

For the past half century, the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) has been partnering with Kenya to address Kenya’s developmental needs. 

This occasion, therefore, provides us with an opportunity to both look back, and also look forward. And looking forward is really very important at a time of so much uncertainty.

A guiding thread of past and present programmes of the Swiss Cooperation has been to address some of the mentioned fragility factors while leveraging on the comparative advantages of Kenya. 

Socio-economic disparities are best addressed by specialised training and job creation.

And so we find the establishment of training centres such as the Kenya Utalii College for hospitality and tourism.

The college was opened in 1970 by Switzerland and handed over to Kenyan government in 1983.

It has trained over 60,000 graduates, significantly boosting the sector, which contributes almost 10 per cent to Kenya’s GDP.

Less known is the Kisii Training Centre for labour intense road construction and maintenance, supported between 1984 and 2001.

It heavily contributed to the accessibility of rural areas, boosting the socio-economic integration of Kenya. 

Today, our main partners are county authorities and the vibrant private sector. For the Covid-19 response, the Swiss Development Cooperation is part of the National Business Compact Coalition. 

 Switzerland is focusing its current programme to the North-Eastern counties of Kenya by partnering, e.g. with the Frontier Counties Development Council, in strengthening particularly the livestock and water sectors.

This commitment is in support of Kenya’s ambitious devolution process that should be strengthened.

It has been repeatedly said that the world after Covid-19 won’t be the same. It actually could be a unique opportunity for Kenya to truly advance the Big Four agenda, particularly in achieving affordable healthcare for all.

For this to succeed, the gross inequalities will need to be addressed. Kenya can always count on Switzerland. —The writer is Regional Head of International Cooperation, Horn of Africa, Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation

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