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Kenya a choice investment and travel destination in Africa
December 3, 2016, 3:55 pm
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A career diplomat with over 35 years of experience in his country’s diplomatic service, His Excellency Ali Abbas, Ambassador of Kenya to Kuwait is a veteran envoy well-versed in every nuance of international diplomacy.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with The Times, Ambassador Abbas recalled that Kenya – Kuwait relations go back a long time, to even before the two countries gained independence in the early 1960s. Kenya’s Mombasa Port was a major point of call for Kuwaiti seafaring merchants as they plied the trade route across the Indian Ocean to the east coast of Africa, on to India and beyond.

“We can see remnants of that close relation still preserved at the Bayt Al-Othman Museum in Hawally. There you will find many of the artifacts that were used in Kuwait in an age gone by, including wooden door and window frames, rafters made from mangroves, furniture and utensils, many of them of Kenyan origin. Some of these items can still be found being used in villages along the Kenyan east coast, where the cultural and culinary connections to the Arab world are still very evident to this day.

“Deep-rooted economic, social and cultural ties between Kenya and Kuwait were further consolidated when Kuwait became the first Arab country to open an embassy in Nairobi in 1965, and then raised the diplomatic recognition to ambassadorial level in 1968. We opened a full-fledged embassy here in Kuwait in 2007; prior to that we were represented here through our embassy in Saudi Arabia.

 

“Today relations between the two countries are on an excellent level, with regular high level visits and meetings taking place. In fact, my first visit to Kuwait was as part of a high-level foreign ministry delegation. As the then Director of the Middle-East division at the Kenyan Foreign Ministry, I was privileged to accompany our Foreign Minister during his official visit to Kuwait in 2012.

“I was back here again in 2013, to attend the Third Africa Arab Summit that was held in Kuwait. Kenya was represented at that Summit by a high-level delegation headed by our President His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta, and which included the Foreign, Finance and Tourism Ministers of Kenya.  During the event a number of important agreements and Memorandums of Understanding (MoU) were signed between the two countries, including an agreement on Avoidance of Double Taxation and another on Protection and Promotion of Investments. The MoUs signed at the summit were on Political Consultation between the two countries and on Tourism Cooperation.

“The strong bilateral relations between our two countries are further amplified by several projects in Kenya that have been, and continue to be, supported by financing and technical assistance from the Kuwait Fund for Arab Economic Development. The Fund has over the years provided millions of dollars in concessional, long-term loans for the social and economic development of Kenya, including funding for construction and rehabilitation of irrigation canals in the agriculture sector and infrastructure projects such as roads and highways, as well as for the building and renovation of hospitals and schools,” noted the ambassador.

Expanding on his prolific overseas diplomatic career spanning over 35 years, Ambassador Ali said, “I entered the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in 1981, immediately after I graduated from Nairobi University. Even before I completed my diplomacy training, which is mandatory for all entry level graduates, I was posted as Third-Secretary to our embassy in Abu Dhabi, UAE where I remained for four years, becoming a Second-Secretary before returning to the foreign ministry.

“From 1991 to 1995, I was stationed in Islamabad, Pakistan and was then appointed to our High Commission in Canberra, Australia, where I remained from 1995 to 1998. I then once again returned to the foreign ministry to serve for four years as Head of Finance and Administration, and then as Head of Middle-East Division before being deputed to the High Commission in Dar es Salaam, Tanzania for three years from 2002 to 2005. From there, I was appointed as ambassador to Tehran, Iran, from 2005 to 2010; then, I once again returned to the ministry to take up the post of Director of Middle East Division. In December 2014, I was appointed as Ambassador Plenipotentiary to Kuwait with accreditation to Bahrain, Lebanon and Syria.”

Elaborating on trade ties with Kuwait, the envoy pointed out the huge potential to further improve commercial relations between the two countries. “There is plenty of scope for boosting Kenya – Kuwait trade, especially in the agriculture, livestock and horticulture fields. We have fresh, organic agricultural products and free range cattle. It is encouraging to note that there has been a steady increase of these products into the Kuwait market, but more could be done by both sides to improve trade,” said the envoy.

Kenyan economy is the largest in East and Central Africa and has in recent years witnessed steady growth in gross domestic product (GDP). Last year the GDP grew by 5.6 percent boosted by significant progress in several key sectors, including agriculture, construction, real estate and financial services. Inflation was also contained to 6.6 percent in 2015, with the lower global oil prices helping the economy. While the volume of petroleum product imports increased to 4.4 million tonnes in 2015, the total import bill for these products dropped by 32.6 percent to $2.2 billion.

The current account deficit as a percentage of GDP also narrowed in 2015 on the back of increased export of goods and services, and lower imports. Exports grew by 8.2 percent while total imports were down by 2.5 percent. A little over 15 percent of the country’s total exports of US$5.8 billion came from the export of horticulture products, which in 2015 grew to nearly 240,000 tonnes and accounted for over $890 million in revenues. “Incidentally, most of the flowers that come to Kuwait are of Kenyan origin, though they may have been imported from The Netherlands or elsewhere,” commented the ambassador.

Kuwaiti investment in the Kenyan economy is another area that has the potential to be further promoted, noted the top diplomat, adding, “The fact that we have a bilateral agreement on the Promotion and Protection of Investments should encourage Kuwaiti businesses and entrepreneurs to consider investing in Kenya’s successful growth story. Various sectors of the Kenyan economy are ripe for investments, including in agriculture, horticulture, mining, energy, real-estate, and tourism.”

Increase in bilateral trade and tourism to Kenya were hindered in the past by a lack of direct flights between the two countries. However, the envoy noted, “While direct flights still remain commercially unviable, there are plenty of daily and timely connections easily available from any of the regional hubs at Dubai, Abu Dhabi or Doha, which makes flights between Nairobi and Kuwait fast and hassle free for business and leisure travelers.”

Inviting Kuwaitis to see Kenya as an attractive tourism destination and as a business friendly investment location, the ambassador pointed out that Kenya has one of the most diversified economies in Africa with a highly skilled workforce and with a welcoming, attractive and secure investment climate. He added, “Tourists to Kenya can also be assured of having a travel experience unlike any other, with a wide variety of attractive locations and plenty of activities in store for them. Moreover, Kuwaitis have the option of selecting to have a visa stamped from our embassy, or using the e-visa route or having visa on arrival in Nairobi. “

Ambassador Ali is in the country with his wife and youngest daughter who is schooling here. Given their international exposure growing up, the ambassador’s three elder sons are all away from home. One is doing his studies in Australia, the other is employed in the United Kingdom and the third is following in his father’s footsteps and pursuing a diplomatic career at the Kenyan Foreign Ministry.

In conclusion, the ambassador voiced his happiness to be in the country, working to further promote and boost the strong and friendly bilateral relations between Kenya and Kuwait. He also expressed his profound gratitude to His Highness the Amir Sheikh Sabah Al-Ahmad Al-Jaber Al-Sabah, the government and people of Kuwait for their generosity and support to Kenya, and wished Kuwait and its people the very best.

 

Share your views
Omar  Posted on : December 04, 2016 12:17 am
His excellency Ali Abbas is a very talented man. He is very kind and helpful.
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