Mary Kimonye (Chief Executive, Brand Kenya)

10.03.2011 - Interview conducted by Ashley S. Fitzpatrick & Kim Cornett

Q1. News and media outlets often portray Kenya as a Big Sister or Big Brother to other countries in the East Africa region. This role has advantages but also disadvantages. How do you see Kenya’s position in the region and its relationship with its neighbours?

That is true Kenya is already doing a lot of big brother things within the region, this position comes with advantages but it also comes with responsibilities. Our position makes us the most attractive country for investment in East Africa but it also places a responsibility on us to improve other countries because we are sharing a common border, we are sharing a common lake and we are sharing common resources. You will find that when countries like Rwanda were in difficulty, Kenya took in most of the refugees from there and employed them; it also took steps to ensure that Rwanda became peaceful and once Rwanda became peaceful we helped with reconstruction including with human resources such as in the IT sector. We have done the same in Sudan. The Sudanese government for Southern Sudan was housed in Kenya as was the Somali Assembly at one time. Kenya has even pledged money to for reconstruction of Southern Sudan. Even as a poor country we feel it is important because even when you are poor, your brother is still poor and you still need to share. The peace treaty for Sudan was signed in Kenya as it was also for Somalia. So that is Kenya’s position within the region, one of regional integration, we have now gone up to the level of a common market.

Q2. As a multi ethnic multi cultural country, Kenya is still developing in its own right what might be the best way to promote a unified national brand to support Kenya while also still addressing the local and regional divides and issues of underdevelopment?

Kenya is multi-cultural; we have many religions such as Islam and Christianity which accounts for 80 percent of the population. Our government has propagated a new constitution that has a very strong bill of rights. It is for individuals and for groups. Rights as a religious group such as freedom of worship and also freedoms of property ownership and land are included and so we have a very strong bill of rights which is now being put into a new constitution. The view of our government is for the citizen to be a big part of it, to take ownership because if people are not part of the process you will find that it is very difficult to sell an image. We have the National Vision for Kenya separate from our neighbours, we as a country have specific goals to achieve but we want to do this while also working towards integration and with our neighbours. There are certain things that are unique about us and we are promoting those unique things, Kenya has resources and we promote them as one which is very important for us. We share the Lake Victoria with Uganda and Tanzania and because we export our fish to Europe it is very important that the three countries adopt a common standard for fish in order to convince our markets that our fish is clean. We are sharing the same resource and so Kenya has become a crusader for standards within the region.

Q3. Much has been said about the failure of foreign direct investment to improve standards of living in developing countries and in some cases it can worsen socio-economic conditions. As a country that encourages private foreign direct investment in Kenya, how does “Brand Kenya” address this risk in marketing itself to foreign investors?

The government has included this in its strategy. We have a very strong public-private partnership strategy so that for the people investing in Kenya there is a strategy within which we interact with them and within which we work with them. It is not foreign investment that the country is against. With Foreign investment you can have as many investors as possible because when investors come they work within the parameters of the country, producing products and employment. They will also earn the country foreign exchange. What the country is worried about is aid because aid creates a diffidence cycle which the government does not want. A foreign company comes with commercial interests; you have to balance these interests with the social interests of the country. We have employment laws as well as emigration laws, for example if you want to invest in Kenya you can bring in your own employees with specialised skills if these skills are not already available in the country. In this case you have to use local resources as much as possible.

Q4. Does that mean they are investing less in Kenya than they are in other African nations? For example, where China brings in its own workers to work on projects within Africa?

What China is doing is engaging in construction and combining this with expertise in certain areas which I think is important because when they come in, they use Kenyan workers to do the normal jobs. Kenya has one of the highest numbers of multi-national companies in Africa because they fight the incentives well. We are hoping this will improve.

Q5. The tourism industry is often considered to be short sighted and unsustainable in terms of development. The building of infrastructure to the detriment of local populations is another negative aspect. Do you see it as possible to cooperate with multi-national corporations in Kenya and in Africa in an effort to promote sustainable development?

Yes, because tourism investment is done within local communities which is very important. Communities are becoming part of the investment and it is working really well. I think it is possible. Also the multi-national companies that are investing are also benefiting from domestic tourism where there is large growth. Cooperation between local communities and investors is the only way to go otherwise what happens is that communities will feel isolated in their own town and a conflict of interest occurs. Mulit-national companies in Mombassa are doing this now they promote the local culture and employ local people and also engage in building schools and hospitals and become part of the community and conservation.

Thank you very for your time and enjoy the rest of  the conference.