There has been controversy for many years over the real value, and true impact, of ‘official development assistance’ to countries.
And so, a Swiss ambassador to Kenya should expect to occasionally be challenged — even by his friends — to explain what good the diplomatic mission that he heads has achieved in over 50 years since its establishment.
Well, there is a convenient benchmark I like to use when explaining the relationship between Switzerland and Kenya since the Swiss Embassy was set up in Nairobi back in 1964.
KENYA UTALII COLLEGE
After the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC) started operations in Kenya in 1969, the Kenya Utalii College was its first and largest project in the country. It was based on a needs assessment for trained staff in an ever-growing Kenyan tourism industry.
But such a big developmental project has never been required of Geneva since. Instead, Kenya now has dozens of accredited institutions offering training in various facets of tourism, most of them private sector institutions by local investors.
And since Kenya fully took over the operations of Utalii in 2001, it has developed its hospitality sector using internal resources.
In about three decades, Kenya has gone from requiring active support and collaboration from Switzerland to develop the necessary human resource base for a successful tourism sector to self-sufficiency. To me, that is successful development.
I hope this helps to explain why Switzerland no longer plays a prominent role in giving Kenya development assistance as it used to — except for the northern counties.
Now a middle-income nation, what Kenya needs from development partners is not so much aid but private sector investment for economic growth and jobs.
I, therefore, take great pride in the fact that, in just a few days, we will have a high-level trade mission from Switzerland coming to Kenya in search of investment opportunities. It is to be led by a top Swiss government official, State Secretary of Economy Marie-Gabrielle Ineichen-Fleisch.
Some of the Swiss corporate bodies who will be represented are looking towards Kenya for the first time. Others have had representative offices, or even existing investments, in Kenya.
Already, there are about 50 Swiss businesses in Kenya.
They provide vocational training to young Kenyans. They provide high-quality seeds to Kenyan farmers. They reinsure the crops of Kenyan farmers against drought. They provide financial services to their Kenyan customers.
They produce and install elevators and escalators in Kenya’s new high-rise buildings and malls.
They fly Swiss tourists to Kenya. They assist the National Treasury to achieve its tax revenue targets. They ship perishable goods to Europe. They invest in the health of Kenyan families. They provide building materials for the Kenyan housing market.
Most of those businesses have been in Kenya for a very long time. But over the recent years, I felt a growing interest of small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) from Switzerland in the Kenyan market.
Switzerland Global Enterprise (SGE), the Swiss trade promotion entity, has visited Kenya several times during my tenure here. SGE will be part of the Swiss trade mission from November 11-13.
It will be an important moment to see and learn from each other — and to strengthen our bilateral economic ties.
Dr Heckner is the Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya. [email protected] @SwissAmbKenya