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Envoy’s high point was referendum results

Friday October 14 2011

British High Commissioner Rob Macaire.

Photo/FILE British High Commissioner Rob Macaire. 


What are the key transformations you have seen in Kenya in the three years you have been here?

I don’t think I will ever forget being at Bomas of Kenya for the tallying of the votes in the constitutional referendum.

There has been tremendous positive change — change that Kenyans don’t sometimes give themselves credit for.

The new Constitution has to be the most historic transformation that has taken place during my time here and indeed one of the greatest transformations in Kenya’s history.

Talking to the new Chief Justice recently, I was struck just how far the country had come since I arrived, at a time when Kenya was reeling from the impact of the post-election violence and the way forward seemed bleak, to say the least.

But Kenya has tried hard to pick itself up from that sad time, and many indicators are very positive, despite current economic challenges.


My daily drive from Muthaiga to Upper Hill now takes place mostly on newly constructed highways — though sadly it looks as if I will just miss the opening of the last flyover to complete that journey!

There is still some way to go, but these positive indicators certainly give me hope for Kenya’s future.

Where do you see Kenya heading in terms of reforms, the economy and security?

I don’t think Kenya’s economy can substantially improve unless the pace of positive reform is kept up.

What deters investment, whether from Kenyans or overseas, is political risk and the problems of corruption.

The new Constitution and the reforms linked to it are the best hope of overcoming those challenges.

But above all, the major test will be the conduct of the next election — there remains much to do and little time to do it.

I do not need to set out the importance of the next election being free, fair and peaceful.

Like so many Kenyans, we anxiously wait for the establishment of the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission, and the start of the enormous task of preparing elections.

But we are also not naïve: there are certainly forces in Kenya that do not want to see an end to impunity, do not want to see free and fair elections, and do not want to see the strengthening of the rule of law and human rights.

We are committed to standing firmly alongside the majority of Kenyans in fighting those forces.

What is the UK’s contribution to good governance in Kenya?

Through our Department For International Development, DfID, programmes, we are focused on improving security and stability as well as empowering citizens to take part in the governance of their country and seek accountability on how government is run and resources are used.

Through support to Parliament, the Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission, electoral bodies and civil society, the programme enables Kenyans to have greater awareness of their rights and responsibilities, to vote freely and in peace, to hold their leaders to account and to participate in decisions that affect them.

We want to help improve security for the poor by working with the police, civil society and communities to reform security institutions and practices in the country.

This includes better victim support and improved capacity of the criminal justice system to deal with violence against women.

It also includes a major input on police reforms, which we believe to be central not only to the lives and security of wananchi, but also fundamental to the economy.

The new legislation on police reforms commands widespread support from civil society.

We have supported initiatives such as the introduction of live parliamentary debates on national television, investigations by the National Taxpayers’ Association into the use of taxpayers’ money for local projects and raising awareness of Kenya’s new Constitution.

China’s profile in Kenya has risen to the extent where it’s challenging the US for mindshare, thanks to huge investments or involvement in infrastructure development and trade. India, too, is coming up strongly as an investor. Does that leave the UK in the unfamiliar position of a somewhat small player in the diplomatic stakes in Kenya? What is your country doing about this?

We welcome the increasing roles of China and India. As close partners of Kenya we want to see it succeed and having a trading and investment partner such as China is indispensable to a successful Kenyan economy.

We have no reason to feel threatened by this: what is good for the Kenyan economy is good for the UK as a strong trading partner.

We are still the largest external investor in Kenya, and our trade relationship is booming (UK exports to Kenya were 41 per cent higher for the first half of 2011 than the same period last year).

And the trade balance is in fact in Kenya’s favour, which shows this is not a one-way relationship.

There have been repeated accounts of corruptly-obtained funds running into billions of shilling allegedly stashed in UK banks. In particular, former Kenya Anti-Corruption Commission chief Aaron Ringera is on record as saying that the British government was not very helpful in recovering the lost money in the Anglo-leasing scandal. Why has there been no move to recover it?

Britain has a very good record of tracking down, freezing and returning the proceeds of corruption to countries where it came from.

We’ve doubled the investigative resources in the UK looking into these cases, for example, through specialist units in the Metropolitan and City of London Police.

We have no interest in having corrupt money in the UK. But we haven’t managed to do this with Kenya.

Why is it that we can do so with, for example, Nigeria, but not Kenya? The answer, I am afraid, lies in the lack of willingness of the Kenyan authorities to really investigate these crimes.

Look at Anglo-Leasing as a classic case: We have mounted a massive campaign over many years to try to persuade Kenya to bring the suspects to book. Sadly, the political will has not existed.

It remains my hope that this will change. Take another example: the Jersey authorities are on record as saying that if the extradition cases currently underway are successful and result in prosecution, they will return to Kenya the funds frozen in Jersey. (READ: Kenya offered share of Okemo, Gichuru loot)

Nations that were eager to enter the war in the oil-rich Persian Gulf in the name of international security have depicted a cautious stance in the Somalia situation. Tragically, UK citizens have fallen victim to the worsening situation. Has the UK done enough in supporting Somalia?

The UK is one of the largest financial supporters of the AU force. Amisom, which is doing a superb and courageous job in Mogadishu.

We are also the largest bilateral humanitarian donor to Somalia and the second largest bilateral development donor.

But I think most people who work on this issue recognise that there is not going to be an easy or a purely military solution in Somalia.

Somalia has been an intractable problem for many years. There is no quick fix, but we recognise that we must go on helping Somalia to find a way forward, such as supporting implementation of the roadmap following the Kampala Accord.

The Kenyan tourism industry generally reacts badly to blanket travel advisories because of their impact on business. Your latest travel advisory is perhaps the most wide-ranging and could lead directly to depressed arrivals from the country’s main tourism market. To what extent do the advisories actually strengthen the hand of terrorist groups?

We took the decision to change our travel advice, following the attacks on the coast, extremely carefully and responsibly.

We understand very well the impact that such a change can have on Kenya’s tourism, and how important that industry is to the country.

Indeed, we also know that this has an impact on the UK tourism industry in terms of how it affects UK tour operators who are sending tourists to Kenya, UK airlines and so on.

We are in discussion with the Kenyan government about how we can help with measures to improve security on the coast, and we will keep our travel advice under constant review.

But we must remember that it is not only the travel advice that will reduce tourist numbers, it is the fact of the attacks themselves.

The UK’s most memorable High Commissioner in recent times has to be Sir Edward Clay, who was well-known for his abrasive style. Since his departure, the tone from Upper Hill has been more measured. Does it reflect your country’s change in foreign policy or it is a matter of personal style?

Well, I don’t think there has been much change in policy. What was Edward Clay famous for?

Saying loudly that corruption and impunity was at shocking levels in Kenya, that it hurt the poor more than anyone else, and that the government needed to address it.

I have said the same things repeatedly, in the press, on radio and television, as have many other diplomats.

I think the reason Sir Edward got such a profile for his stance (apart from some of his metaphors!) was that at the time, he was the only one saying this. That was courageous, and made him the target of some politicians.

But do we still feel as strongly about corruption and governance? And are we equally committed to help Kenyans fight this? Absolutely.

Q: What next for you? Tell us something about your successor.

When I and my family sadly leave Kenya, we go back to the UK for the next couple of years, and then I hope to be looking for another ambassadorial posting.

Because of the nature of the career, that could be pretty well anywhere. But I doubt it will be easy to find a job as personally and professionally rewarding as representing my country in Kenya at this momentous time in its history.

My successor is an experienced and senior diplomat, who will actually be doing this job for a relatively short time before going on to another senior ambassadorial post in the region. I will let him tell you about himself when he arrives next month!