Having been in the services of his country since 1982, Aboubakar Kote, the Chargé d’Affaires at the embassy of Burkina Faso in Kuwait, is a veteran in the field of diplomacy. “Before arriving in Kuwait I was at the Burkina Faso embassy in Saudi Arabia from 2003 to 2008, and before that at our embassy in Iran from 1992 to 1997. So you could say, I am quite knowledgeable when it comes to this region and its people,” said Mr. Kote at the start of an exclusive interview with The Times.
Elaborating on his long and eventful diplomatic career, Mr. Kote added, “In 1984, just two years after joining the Burkina Faso Foreign Service, I was posted to our mission in Algeria and in the interim period, between postings abroad, I was deputed to various section at the head office in Ouagadougou, our capital. I served as Director of Protocol to the Parliament from 1997 to 2003 and, prior to my appointment in Kuwait, I was Secretary General of the Higher Studies Institute, which is responsible for training my country’s diplomatic personnel.”
The envoy went on to say, “I arrived in Kuwait in December 2012 and following the presentation of my credentials to His Excellency Sheikh Sabah Khalid Al-Sabah, the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister for Foreign Affairs, I officially took office in January 2013. Since then I have been working to strengthen bilateral relations in various domains and initiating and encouraging the establishment of social, cultural and economic ties between our two countries.”
Saying that strong diplomatic ties between Burkina Faso and Kuwait have existed since the early 1970s, Mr. Kote noted that these bonds were enhanced in the 1980s and became further entrenched with the opening of the Burkina Faso embassy in Kuwait. “Today, Burkina Faso and Kuwait enjoy dynamic and fruitful diplomatic and political relations. We are both active members of numerous international organizations, including the United Nations, the Non-Aligned Movement and Organization of Islamic Cooperation, where we work in close cooperation and share similar viewpoints on global and regional issues of importance to both countries.”
“It was with the aim of further enhancing these strong relations that His Highness Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmed Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the Amir of Kuwait, invited His Excellency Blaise Compaoré, the President of the Republic of Burkina Faso, to open an embassy in Kuwait. When our president accepted the invitation, I was assigned to implement his decision,” said the diplomat, adding, “We hope to soon have an embassy of Kuwait in Ouagadougou, as currently consular affairs of Kuwait related to Burkina Faso are being handled by personnel from the Kuwaiti embassy in Mauritania or from the Senegal.”
Clarifying that Kuwait has been at the forefront in engaging with and aiding the government of Burkina Faso in its growth and development efforts, Mr. Kote continued, “Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development, the government’s arm involved in funding infrastructure projects in developing countries, has been for long a reliable and generous supporter of development projects in Burkina Faso. In fact, the Fund has been active in practically all of the major infrastructure projects in our country, involving hundreds of millions of dollars in building roads, dams and hospitals around the country.”
Since 2001, the fund has supported the economic and social development of Burkina Faso by meeting existing and forecast future demands on road transport. The transport infrastructure has also efficiently supported local agricultural production by improving links with other regions of the country and enhanced the national economy by facilitating international trade across borders. Through the construction of dams, water treatment plants, pumping stations and a network of transmission and distribution pipelines and storage reservoirs, the Fund has also helped improve living standards of farming communities by increasing agricultural production through improved irrigation and land development.
Moreover, in 2012, the Fund signed a loan agreement with the Burkina Faso to enhance the development of the health sector by improving the quality and efficiency of medical coverage through specialized diagnostic and therapeutic services with the building and equipping of a 200-bed regional hospital in Manga, in the Central South Region of Burkina Faso. “The Fund is also involved in construction of the new international airport at Donsin, about 35km from the capital. The new airport is expected to relieve congestion and eventually replace the current airport, which is located within the capital. The new airport will also benefit the economic development of the country, enhance its regional competitiveness and boost tourism traffic to our landlocked country,” explained the envoy.
In addition to the direct initiatives of the Kuwait Fund, a separate Grant Agreement of US$5 million from the Kuwait Goodwill Fund, which was set up by His Highness the Amir of Kuwait in 2008, was signed to assist Burkina Faso in enhancing its food production. The Grant will help provide micro-credits and small loans for financing small-scale farming and other small business activities, including micro-businesses involved in food production and related support services such as food processing, storage and marketing.
“Besides support from the government and its agencies, Kuwait’s private sector represented by several Islamic charitable organizations, have played a key-role in developing social infrastructure in Burkina Faso. These organizations have over the years provided financial aid and support for construction of water-wells, schools and clinics in rural and urban areas of the country. These non-governmental contacts have also helped cement relations on the people-to-people level between our two countries,” noted Mr. Kote.
While the potential for economic and trade links with Burkina Faso are immense, unfortunately the possibilities have not received the necessary promotion in Kuwait, said the envoy. He added, “The embassy is in the process of rectifying this shortcoming by creating greater awareness of investment opportunities in Burkina Faso among the Kuwaiti business community. To this end, we are planning to work with the Kuwait Chamber of Commerce and Industry and invite Kuwaiti business delegations to visit and interact with their counterparts in Burkina Faso.”
The Chargé d’Affaires went on to point out, “We are a country rich in minerals and agriculture land and there are huge possibilities for enterprising investors and businesses from Kuwait. In addition to plenty of land that can be developed to produce food grains, vegetables and cash crops such as cotton, we have abundant opportunities for livestock rearing and marketing. Burkina Faso also has a strong mining industry, especially in gold mining, which has drawn investments from around the world and made the country the fourth largest gold producer in Africa. Developing tourism infrastructure is another field that could benefit immensely from foreign investments, and the Kuwait private sector can play a significant role in this field.”
Though a landlocked country, Burkina Faso has the distinct advantage of sharing friendly borders with Mali, Niger, Benin, Togo, Ghana and Ivory Coast. Explaining that the strategic positioning of the country allows businesses based in Burkina Faso to have ready and easy access to the large and diverse West African market, Mr. Kote said, “Cross border trade is also facilitated by the fact that we have a common currency, the West African Franc (CFA), and are members of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (UEMOA) sharing similar customs policies, and having harmonization and convergence in our fiscal and macro-economic policies.”
“Burkina Faso is also a founding member of the larger Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) and plays an influential role in the regional political arena. The country has been solicited on numerous occasions to engage in mediating, containing and resolving regional disputes and crises. We did so successfully in the Republic of Togo in the 1990s and, more recently, we have been actively engaged in bringing about democratic transition in the Republic of Mali,” the envoy added.
Speaking about cultural ties between Burkina Faso and Kuwait, Mr. Kote expressed his view that people in both countries have a similar appreciation for their own culture and respect for the cultures and way of life of others. “During my eight months stay in this country, I have been really impressed by how attached Kuwaitis are to their culture. This strong cultural connection is similar to what one can observe among people in my country; we too have a profound attachment to our culture and a deep respect and admiration for the diverse cultures of the world.”
The Chargé d’Affaires went on to say, “Burkina Faso enjoys strong public participation in its cultural life and the country has contributed significantly to West African and African film industry. In 1969, we established Africa's largest film festival, the biennial FESPACO film festival in Ouagadougou. This highly popular pan-African film and television festival recognizes and promotes talent in various aspects of cinema across Africa. The 23rd edition of FESPACO was successfully held in February 2013, where the noted Senegalese director Alain Gomis' film Tey won the best film award.”
“We also host the biennial International Art and Craft Fair in Ouagadougou, which is better known by its French name of SIAO, (Le Salon International de l' Artisanat de Ouagadougou). This festival is one of the most important handicraft fairs in the whole of Africa and helps promote handicrafts of the continent across the world. The latest edition of SIAO was successfully held in November 2012 under the patronage of the Japanese ambassador to Burkina Faso and attracted large participation from around Africa and witnessed huge crowds from all parts of the globe,” said Mr. Kote. He expressed his hope that in future Kuwait would lend its patronage and participate in this handicrafts festival.
In conclusion the Chargé d’Affaires said, “I would like to extend the gratitude of Burkina Faso to the leadership, government and people of Kuwait for their unconditional and generous support to my country and its development policies in the past. And, going into the future, we look to further enhancing this strong and friendly bilateral relations between our two nations.”