UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Secretary James Cleverly was in Nairobi on his first tour of the sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya and Ethiopia) since his appointment to the position in September this year.
While in Kenya, he announced UK’s contribution to the African Development Fund (ADF) that will finance high impact but affordable projects that create new jobs, improve healthcare, enhance food security and facilitate transition to green energy. The UK also announced a public backing for the peace efforts in the Democratic Republic of Congo.
The EastAfrican writer Mary Wambui spoke with him.
Kenya recently lifted its ban on GMOs and a section of farmers are worried that the move is going to prevent them from exporting their products to the UK. What is your assurance?
Well, I think one thing that is important to remember is that there is a very strong trading relationship between Kenya and the UK, there’s actually a very balanced trading relationship. In the supermarkets in the UK there are lots of Kenyan products and we really value those.
Obviously, decisions that are made by the Kenyan government are things that we have an interest in and we will always talk closely with the government about how we cannot just protect the current levels of trade but also how to increase levels of trade.
We will of course be speaking about how we can make sure that Kenyan products stay on the British shelves but also about what else we can do to increase the amount of trade as a priority for both governments.
There have been concerns that the UK is absconding its immigrant responsibilities by handing them over to Rwanda.
The numbers of potential immigrants that we have discussed with the Rwanda deal are not huge numbers but it’s an important part of the UK immigration policy.
We value the fact that we can have really important bilateral conversations with African political leaders and immigration in the UK, just as it is in many countries, is an important issue. We are looking at innovative ways of trying to address what has been a big spike in immigration in recent years.
There is a lot to our relationship with Rwanda way beyond immigration issues and we will look to make sure that we continue working to help Rwanda develop its economy just as we are doing in the conversations I have had here in Kenya and just as I will do when I go to Ethiopia later this evening.
Nairobi has just finished hosting the third Inter-Congolese peace dialogue, part of efforts to bring lasting peace to Eastern Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). Will the UK be supporting the initiative(s) and if so, in what ways?
We are very keen to see a proper lasting peace particularly in the Eastern parts of DRC. I spoke with the president and a number of Cabinet Secretaries about the role that Kenya is playing as part of the peace process. We recognise that, we value that, and we will keep working closely with the political leadership in East Africa to try and drive real and sustainable peace.
I welcome the action that Kenya has taken, trying to bring peace to the region and we will continue supporting African leaders as they address these challenges particularly with regard to conflicts and violence.
There are many atrocities that are happening in the DR Congo. Who should bear the largest responsibility for them? Is it the countries funding the militia groups?
For me, I think the priority is to bring the conflict to a conclusion, to bring the violence to an end. These are conversations that I have had with the President of DRC as well as the political leadership in Rwanda.
Our focus is to bring peace, sustainable peace. That is what I discussed with the president when we met at State House here in Nairobi and that will always be our focus.
Sometimes pursuing peace is not easy and actually sometimes quiet diplomacy is the best way of pursuing peace and peace is always our priority in terms of our UK foreign policy.
Some African countries are concerned that the sanctions against Zimbabwe are ineffective and are hurting the common man. Is there a likelihood of the UK relaxing some of its sanctions?
Our sanctions when it comes to Zimbabwe are very, very targeted and they are targeted at specific individuals for specific reasons and we are very careful when we deploy sanctions not to do anything that will hurt the wider economy of people more generally.
I think sometimes people who are subject to the UK sanctions try to make it sound as if it's the very Zimbabweans who are being held by their sanctions but the truth is that we are very careful when we deploy sanctions.
There’s a general feeling that the UK is not willing to support trading blocs in Africa; instead it goes for individual bilateral agreements with specific countries. We are very keen to find whatever ways we can increase trade both bilaterally with African countries but also regionally within trading blocs. One of the things we found out sometime is that it's quicker and easier to get the initial stages of trade agreements done on a bilateral basis but also one of the things that I observed is that sometimes those bilateral trade agreements can be the foundation stone for more regional based trade agreements.
The UK is very, very keen to do more trade with East Africa. We have discussed trade with Kenya specifically and we are very happy to do more trade with East Africa. We want to make sure that the trade, investment and development agreements that we enter into are really beneficial to the African countries themselves as well of course as being beneficial to the UK and they are economically and environmentally sustainable.
We are very open-minded as to the best way of doing that. Africa is a continent which is growing in population, influence and economic importance. The UK wants to be the long-term partner with African countries and the region and help support that growth.