Demonstrations were sparked by crony capitalism and the then government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the EU. While the world is now talking of the Latin Uprising in South America, Ukraine experienced what was called the Maidan Revolution in February 2014. With the new dispensation, Ukraine has not only stabilised its domestic politics through reforms but also expanded its footprint in Africa, and Kenya in particular.
Ukraine, an Eastern Europe state known for its Orthodox churches, has been in the news since 2014.
In April, former television comedian Volodymyr Zelensky won a presidential election run-off in a landslide victory over then-incumbent Petro Poroshenko.
In October it emerged that US President Donald Trump had tried to pressurise Zelensky investigate former US Vice President Joe Biden, a possible Democrat presidential rival.
It is, however, the events of 2014 that were prominent, resulting in key developments domestically and globally.
While the world talks of the Latin Uprising in South America, Ukraine experienced what was called the Maidan Revolution in February 2014.
The demonstrations were sparked by crony capitalism and the then government's decision to suspend the signing of an association agreement with the European Union, instead choosing closer ties with Russia and the Eurasian Economic Union. President Viktor Yanukovych was forced to resign and flee to Russia.
A documentary, Winter on Fire: Ukraine’s Fight for Freedom, was produced based on it the following year.
On November 21, the country marked the Day of Dignity and Freedom in honour of the beginning of the 2004 Orange Revolution and the Revolution of Dignity. Both events, residents say, played a key role in strengthening Ukraine’s civil society, safeguarding its democratic values, protecting its national interests and its European choice.
The Maidan Revolution has been seen to inspire recent protests across the world.
For instance, Hong Kong protesters are drawing parallels between it and their own struggle for democracy, the Time reports.
“The overall political situation in the movie resonates with Hongkongers,” Kenneth Chan, a political science professor at Hong Kong Baptist University, told the Time in September.
Winter on Fire producer Evgeny Afineevsky in a recent interview told CNN that Ukraine showed people how to unite and believe in something.
Ukraine is only 28 years old, having attained Independence in 1991 following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
The country's top leadership is young; the president is 41 years, while the new Prime Minister, Oleksiy Honcharuk, is aged 35. The country has a 28-year-old deputy minister.
In this regard, Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergiy Kyslytsya says, women and youth participation in politics is important as it offers “unconventional solutions”.
Ukraine Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister Sergiy Kyslytsya and Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma during his visit to Kenya in 2016.
ENTRY TO AFRICA
With the new dispensation after Maidan, Ukraine has not only stabilised its domestic politics through reforms but also expanded its footprint in Africa, and Kenya in particular.
It now has 11 embassies in Africa—Algeria, Angola, Egypt, Ethiopia, Kenya, Libya, Morocco, Nigeria, Senegal, South Africa and Tunisia.
“The importance of Africa for Ukraine is conditioned by political and economic interests that determine its political image and development of the national economy,” the Ministry of Foreign Affairs says.
“Since June 2016, Ukraine has been enjoying observer status to the African Union, and since 2017 to the Economic Community of West African States. This is yet another proof of the importance that Ukraine pays to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with the continent,” Myroslava Shcherbatiuk, the Ministry’s Director-General for the Middle East and Africa, told the Star in an interview in Kyiv.
“This is yet another proof of the importance that Ukraine pays to the development of mutually beneficial cooperation with the continent”.
She said despite the geographical distance, there are many dimensions to Ukraine-Africa cooperation—interaction in the international arena, especially within the United Nations framework, trade and economic opportunities, education and people-to-people relations.
Ukraine has backed Kenya’s candidature for the UN Security Council's non-permanent seat for 2021-22.
“Today, Ukraine’s technological capacities are even stronger: We can assist African countries in the renovation and construction of hydropower stations, road infrastructure, geology prospecting, food supply. Ukrainian enterprises are ready to offer a wide range of goods and technology exchange in engineering and power generation,” she said.
She, however, regretted that there are only seven resident African diplomatic missions in Ukraine.
“It is vital that we develop and maintain friendly relations through diplomatic presence. The goal is to keep our diplomats on the ground and in constant contact. For the same reason, we encourage Kenya, on the basis of reciprocity, to open its Embassy in Ukraine,” Shcherbatiuk said.
Ukrainian statistics in 2018 indicate the trade turnover with Africa totalled to $5.2 billion (Sh533 billion). Out of this, Ukrainian exports totalled $4 billion (Sh410 billion) while imports from Africa were close to $1 billion (Sh102.6 billion).
However, almost 80 per cent of its exports go to North Africa, leaving out the sub-Saharan states. Shcherbatiuk said the potential is far from being exhausted.
“In particular, we salute the considerable and steady progress achieved in establishing the African Continental Free Trade Area. Together, African people have made great strides to realise the Africa they want. Ukraine can be a trustful and reliable partner in achieving this goal,” she said.
Shcherbatiuk noted that one of the fields of trade and economic cooperation could be the energy sector. "Petrochemical products, LNG supplies, export of minerals are of particular interest to us," she said.
Among the traditional items from Africa that Ukrainian companies are striving to import include cocoa beans, fruits and nuts, tea and coffee (some of the main imports from Kenya) and seafood.
Myroslava Shcherbatiuk, Ukraine MFA's Director General for Africa and the Middle East
To explore new areas of bilateral trade cooperation, Shcherbatiuk proposed an exchange of information on market needs and trade-oriented forums in Ukraine and in African countries.
She also called for deepening cooperation on the level of Chambers of Commerce.
“The Chamber of Commerce and Industry of Ukraine has signed agreements on cooperation with its counterparts in countries like Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, Libya, Sudan, South Africa and Angola,” she said.
On October 8, Ukraine Ambassador Andrii Pravednyk met Kenya National Chamber of Commerce and Industry president Richard Ngatia to discuss how to intensify trade and economic cooperation. A proposal to establish a Ukrainian-Kenyan Business Council was made.
“Signing of bilateral agreements would facilitate this cooperation, specifically on establishing a joint commission for trade and economic cooperation, on avoidance of double taxation, agriculture, education and air services,” the embassy said after the meeting.
In this regard, Foreign Affairs CS Monica Juma has been invited for an official visit to Ukraine.
Deputy Minister Kyslytsya told the Star that the Africa of the 1980s and 1990s is not the same today. “It is a continent of opportunities and Kenya is an entry point to the region,” he said.
Kyslytsya visited Kenya in December 2016, when he led the first-ever high-level bilateral political consultations.
“I am convinced that by ensuring further mutual high-level visits and solid bilateral legal framework, we will make new meaningful contributions to deepen and broaden the Ukraine-Kenya agenda. The political dialogue is important at a time when Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity are challenged by the ongoing Russian aggression,” he said.
Expounding on how Kenya can explore more trade opportunities in Ukraine, Kyslytsya said there is need for more structured discussions and exchange of delegations.
“A trade representative should come to meet and discuss Kenyan opportunities with the Ukrainian government,” he said.
On enhancing tourism and people-to-people relations, he said Kenya needs to have active advertisement in Ukrainian media, noting that "tourism should be repetitive: A friend tells a friend".
AGRICULTURE AND FOOD SECURITY
Kenya, and Africa, recurrently suffer from drought, and food security is one of President Uhuru Kenyatta’s Big Four agenda pillars.
On the other hand, Ukraine possesses strong agricultural and manufacturing opportunities. It has been the “breadbasket” of Europe with 70 per cent of its territory being arable lands and 33 per cent of the world’s rich black-soil. But what sustainable interventions can they offer?
“I believe further development of bilateral relations between Ukraine and Kenya, including supplying light and medium agricultural machinery as well as products of pharmaceutical, food, metal, chemical and energy industries, could greatly contribute to ensuring food security in Kenya, as well as the implementation of other Big Four agenda items,” Shcherbatiuk said.
Kenya has been urging Ukrainian investors to consider investing in infrastructure, tourism, ICT, mining and the emerging oil and gas sector.
In this regard, the director said, Ukrainian expertise and technologies can be used to develop oil transportation and processing facilities, as well as training in oil and gas sphere.
In ICT, she said, the 2019 MoU between the Blockchain Associations of Ukraine and Kenya will pave the way to the flow of Ukrainian investments into Kenyan IT-sector.
“As an example of non-state level cooperation, Ukrainian IT businesses may be encouraged to expand their know-how and expertise to the African continent, in view of the digital revolution emerging over there.”
The MoU was signed at the Embassy of Ukraine in Nairobi by Blockchain Association of Kenya chairperson Roselyn Gicira and Leonid Khatskevych, head of the IoT department at 482.solutions.
“The cooperation will enable both institutions to promote and strengthen standards in the use, distribution, and training of Blockchain and Distributed Ledgers technology, conducting research, training and publications in the area of Blockchain," Khatskevych said.
Ukraine officials admit Kenya is still an unexplored country for Ukrainian businessmen, but they are of the opinion that establishing people-to-people contacts will promote cooperation.
Kenya’s honorary consulate in Ukraine Anatoliy Kovalenko said establishing direct flights and making it easier to acquire visas will help enhance people-to-people relations, echoing Kyslytsya’s remarks.
He also said ensuring diplomatic presence in Kyiv will enhance business and education travels.
“Currently, the only mission in the region is in Russia, and it also serves Ukraine, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Belarus and many countries. This is a very huge population to be served by a single mission, which still has a lean staff,” Kovalenko said.
110 Kenyan students
Country also offers affordable higher education
Life in Turkana is tough, as Samuel Erumu knows all too well. To acquire an education, he was forced to move to his uncle’s place, where he would help at his shop after school in return for his support.
He did well in his studies and was admitted to the University of Nairobi to study engineering. In his first year, he saw a newspaper advert offering a scholarship in Ukraine through the government of Kenya and applied.
He was later contacted by the Ministry of Education and, as they say, the rest is history. He is now a computer engineer in Ukraine, where he undertook his undergraduate and master’s studies.
Simon Njinju grew up in a humble background in Mathira, Nyeri county. His classmates described him as a genius.
Njinju was admitted to Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology, where he came across a Ukrainian sponsorship opportunity one day while passing way time at the computer lab. He applied for the scholarship and qualified. Njinju studied chemical engineering for his undergraduate and master’s degrees and is now an automation engineer.
Teresa Pearl Wanjuiru had enrolled for an International Relations degree at the United States International University – Africa but “she wasn’t feeling it”. She wanted to study for her bachelor’s in a different country.
Out of her various options she picked Ukraine. Why the Eastern Europe country? The fee was lower compared to the other countries.
Wanjiru is among 110 Kenyan students studying medicine in Ukraine. She is set to complete her degree, with a speciality in surgery, this year. The other 12 students study finance and banking, IT, aviation, music and construction across 13 cities. There are more than 75000 students from 154 states studying in Ukraine. India has the highest number at 14,958, while Nigeria has the highest number of African students at 3550.
Expat Insider 2016 ranked Ukraine as the most affordable country in terms of living expenses and second-best in personal financial satisfaction. In 2005, the country joined the Bologna Process, in bid to integrate Ukrainian education into European Higher Education Area.
Students have the option of undertaking their courses in Ukrainian, Russian or English languages.
For prospective students interested in studying there, the Ukrainian State Centre for International Education offers a range of support services.
The centre director, Olena Shapovalova, says these include information support in career guidance and opportunities and conditions of studying there, the system of education and how it works, invitation letter, entry into Ukraine, airport pick up and consulting services during the stay in the country.
Students have the same rights, freedoms and obligations as citizens of Ukraine. These include medical care and insurance.
While the government of Ukraine is looking forward to the signing of an education MoU with Kenya to open more slots and scholarship opportunities for Kenyans, Shapovalova says more information, support and campaign about studying in Ukraine is needed.
This, she says, will increase the number of prospective students.