Apart from the many star athletes and some politicians, who would you say is one of the most renowned Kenyan personalities?
It would, of course, be the late Prof Wangari Maathai, the environmentalist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize!
And what, you might ask, is the link between this honourable Kenyan woman and the new Swiss Embassy building in Nairobi’s Gigiri neighbourhood?
The answer is quite simple: Prof Wangari Maathai’s Green Belt Movement inspired us, like so many other other people around the world.
So when it came to designing the new embassy building of Switzerland in Nairobi, we decided consciously that the main trees on the plot should remain standing and that the new building would adapt to them rather than the opposite.
Today marks a culminating point of our relations with Kenya.
For quite a number of years, our predecessors and colleagues have been working on a new building for the Embassy of Switzerland in Nairobi.
And today – finally – we are officially inaugurating it!
Our new embassy is not just a beautiful building. It is a symbol of the fact that Kenya and the East African region are quite important to Switzerland.
And the message is that Kenya and the region are, indeed, growing in importance.
These new premises represent a substantial investment by the Swiss Government in Kenya.
However, the key message of the new embassy building is a simple one: “Switzerland is here to stay!”
Switzerland is here to continue its close cooperation with Kenya.
And I would like to emphasize one specific area of the cooperation between our two countries: The fight against corruption and the recovery of assets of illicit origin.
Switzerland and Kenya have been working together in fighting corruption for quite a number of years now.
Most of the Kenyan newspaper readers must by now have heard of the Anglo-Leasing scandal involving the looting of public funds.
Switzerland has blocked the assets related to this particular case and is now waiting for the judicial proceedings to come to an end in Kenya.
We firmly hope that the near future will bring the concrete steps towards the resolution of the Anglo-Leasing case, which should finally allow Switzerland to return the assets to Kenya.
In April last year, in order to strengthen our existing cooperation in fighting high-level corruption, Switzerland and Kenya signed a memorandum of understanding for mutual legal assistance in criminal matters.
This MoU has paved the way for an improved cooperation in judicial matters.
Just to give you an example of what is possible when the partnership is functioning well: Switzerland recently signed a tripartite agreement with Nigeria and the World Bank for the restitution of some $321 million illegally acquired.
This will take place within the framework of a project supported and overseen by the World Bank.
The project will strengthen social security for the poorest sections of the Nigerian population.
The agreement also regulates the disbursement of the restituted funds in tranches and sets out concrete measures to be taken in the event of misuse of the money or corruption.
Our development cooperation has, as one of its main objectives, the reduction of poverty around the world.
And there is, indeed, a direct link between corruption and poverty.
Both as a leading financial centre and as a development partner, Switzerland has no interest in having money derived from corruption in its banks.
It simply does not make sense that the money and efforts we invest in development, good governance, and fighting corruption should be stolen from the very people it is intended to help.
Fighting global corruption can only be done through partnerships.
Switzerland needs partners such as Kenya in order to identify and freeze assets that have been illegally acquired and that have found their way to Switzerland.
It is also through solid partnership based on trust and respect that agreements can be found on the best way to return these assets, in a transparent way that directly benefits the people of a given country.
On this historic day of inauguration of the new Swiss Embassy building in Nairobi, my wish and message to all is that our relations with Kenya and the region continue to thrive!
Dr Heckner is the Ambassador of Switzerland to Kenya