Today, I will have the profound honour and privilege of joining Kenyan friends and my counterparts from the various diplomatic missions based in Nairobi to celebrate the 84th birthday of His Majesty Emperor Akihito.
The Emperor’s birthday is an important date in the Japanese calendar. It is a day on which we remember the long and distinguished history of the Imperial House of Japan and its unbroken line of succession that goes back 2,677 years. I can hardly think of a better place to mark this auspicious occasion than in the beautiful city of Nairobi.
I have been the ambassador to Kenya for just over one-and-a-half years and I am pleased to say that the special relations between our two countries have only deepened and grown in stature.
Last August, President Uhuru Kenyatta played host alongside Prime Minister Shinzô Abe to the sixth Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad VI).
The meeting brought together more than 11,000 delegates, including representatives from 53 African countries and 100 executives from leading Japanese companies to discuss how to advance economic, social and political ties with the Kenya and Africa.
It was not a coincidence that this landmark conference, the first to be held outside Japan, was hosted by Kenya, nor is it by accident that Kenya is the biggest beneficiary of Japanese Overseas Development Assistance in sub-Saharan Africa.
Japan’s deep trust in Kenya is a reflection of the country’s important contribution to peace and stability in Africa and its pivotal place as a gateway to eastern Africa.
Today, numerous projects designed to advance Kenya’s economic goals in partnership with Japan are underway in many parts of the country. Just two weeks ago, I accompanied President Kenyatta, Deputy President William Ruto and other leaders as he commissioned the Mwea Irrigation Development Project.
This is a Sh12.2 billion initiative for the construction of an irrigation dam facility and rehabilitation of waterways to boost productivity and improve the livelihoods of farmers and consumers.
Japan has also been a longstanding contributor to Kenya’s efforts to become one of the world’s leading producers of clean energy.
The Olkaria Geothermal Power Plant, which produces 30 per cent of the country’s power generation, is the flagship project in this respect. The expansion of Ngong Road to ease congestion in that vital entry-point to Nairobi is at an advanced stage, while our cooperation with the private sector is highlighted in the Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone of Mombasa, now under construction.
This, alongside the upgrading of Mombasa Port and related infrastructure projects, is a major national project which is expected to create more than 27,000 jobs.
Every year, dozens of Kenyan students go to Japan for higher studies sponsored by the Japanese Government, including under the African Business Education Initiative for Youth (ABE scholarship), of which Kenya is the biggest beneficiary in sub-Saharan Africa.
Our ties in sports are also deep, with Kenyan athletes training in Japan and passing their skills on to the Japanese. In turn, Japan has also helped to nurture and develop the talents of some of Kenya’s wonderful volleyball players.
I really hope to see both countries’ flags raised high during the medal presentation at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
After spending just over a year in Kenya and having experienced the warmth and hospitality of the people, I decided to deepen my connection by embarking on an exciting, challenging but ultimately incredible adventure at the end of September. I decided to climb to the summit of Mt Kenya, the magnificent landmark for which Kenya is famous.
I am not a young man any more, being 60. But I felt this would be a great way to experience Kenya more vividly and I am glad to report that, with the excellent help of my guide, David, and with some porters, a friend and a cook, we managed to overcome many challenges and to scale the 5,199 metre climb and enjoy the magnificent view from the Lenana Peak.
As we celebrate the Emperor’s birthday, I have no doubt that the more than a half-century relationship between Kenya and Japan will only continue to deepen and together we will scale new heights.
Mr Uesawa is Ambassador of Japan to Kenya