President Uhuru Kenyatta last Friday signed into law the Finance Bill 2018. This was amidst a backlash among Kenyans over the eight per cent VAT levy and other taxes to fund the Big Four and finance his development agenda.
However, various partners — missions, companies and countries — have come forward to partner with the government to offer expertise and technical support. Among these is Ukraine, which has a unique devolution system, and is doing well in agriculture, infrastructure, education and education.
The Embassy of Ukraine’s Chargé d'Affaires, Samvel Arustamian, spoke to the Star on areas they target to support the Big Four and on other areas of engagement.
Your country is big in agriculture and industry. President Uhuru Kenyatta is pegging his legacy on the Big Four agenda, in which food security and manufacturing are key pillars. How are your bilateral relations aligned to this development plan in those areas?
For us what is important for the Kenyan government and the Kenyan people is the implementation of the President announced during his second term inauguration — the Big Four agenda. This is very promising for Kenya and Ukraine will serve as a partner in implementing this policy and agriculture is one of that area. Ukraine has always been the bread basket for Europe and we possess 30 per cent of fertile soil and 70 per cent of our land is arable. In 2016, our agricultural exports were 42 per cent of total export, comprising $15.3 billion or 18 per cent of the GDP. We are the number one sunflower oil exporter, third in barley production, fourth in corn production and sixth in wheat and soybeans production.
In this regard, we believe, we can supply Kenya with light and medium agricultural machinery and chemicals to ensure food security.
I recently learnt Kenya's Agriculture minister will help coffee farmers get Sh1.3 billion subsidised fertilizer. Ukraine might become a perfect partner in this but have to wait for the official announcement. Last year during the drought, we brought about 180,000 tonnes of yellow maize, which drastically increased the turnover and cover some needs of this commodity.
The other way is through improving trade, which should be both ways. Ukraine is interested in importing Kenya’s coffee and tea, flowers, fruits, macadamia nuts, which are very popular. Ukraine can also be a gate way to Europe since we have signed association agreement with the European Union.
Ukraine also has potential medicine and our companies are known for producing pharmaceuticals, which is another area we can promote our cooperation and contribute to healthcare, which is a pillar in the Big Four.
You are encouraging your investors to invest in infrastructure. How different is your approach?
First, we need to improve our legal base. For our investors to be interested to come to Kenya, we have to first establish a couple of bilateral agreements, for example on operation of investments and on avoidance of double taxation. This would make our investors more confident. Areas of interest would be in hotel businesses, malls, building agricultural capacity, factories and agricultural machinery.
Our approach is to create joint ventures.
September 27, which happens to be this Thursday is World Tourism Day. This being a key sector for both countries, what has Ukraine done to market Kenya as a key destination for its citizen to visit?
We consider the development of relations in tourism as one of the main factors of the people-to-people relations between Ukraine and Kenya. Kenya has become more attractive to Ukrainian tourists and more companies are promoting Kenya in the country’s tourism areas. I believe one of the main tools for the mutual opening of markets for Ukrainian and Kenyan tourists is arrangement of participation of tour operators of both countries in exhibitions. We have also simplified the procedure of obtaining visas, reduced the consular fee to $65 and introduced an online application and appeal system. Opening o a consulate in Mombasa is another significant move in our dialogue.
Where can we improve? We can introduce more Kenyan tourist agencies to Ukrainians and bring them together in improving this cooperation. The government can also complete the bilateral agreement on aviation and air services. By introducing direct flights between Kiev and Nairobi, it will simplify in terms of budget, time and thus promote tourism, enhance business contacts and enhance people-to-people contacts.
The agreement has been submitted to the government of Kenya for consideration and we have already received some remarks. If all goes well we hope in a year the agreement will go through but again, it will also depend on the national carriers, Kenya Airways and Ukraine Airways.
There have been high-level diplomatic visits between the two states. How have they enhanced the political dialogue?
It has grown very much in the last three years.
In 2016, our deputy foreign minister visited Kenya and met the then PS, Monica Juma, and soon thereafter our first trade mission arrived in Kenya. That gave push to improve our bilateral trade. Our foreign minister also visited this year. It is not only at the executive level but also at parliamentary level. Former Senate Speaker Ekwe Ethuro visited in 2016. And when our foreign minister visited this year, he met both speakers. And to enhance the political dialogue further, we encourage Kenya open an Embassy in Kiev. Only the Russian federation and Ukraine have a permanent embassies here in Nairobi. It would be good on the basis of reciprocity to have an embassy in Kiev.
While Ukraine is emerging as a preferred destination for higher education, how are you creating this awareness?
We have 240 universities offering education to foreign students. We have established a specialised website of the Ministry of Education and Science "Study in Ukraine". This year, we also shared this information by visiting schools in Nairobi and streaming promo videos in cinemas.
Students can bring the expertise they gain back to Kenya.
Kenya is hosting the Sustainable Blue Economy conference in November. In which areas is Ukraine engaged?
We have expertise which we are willing to share when our delegation arrives in November. Our most important area in the Blue Economy is how to improve the tourism sector better and maker the marine ecosystem more sustainable, improve sea routes and explore the seabed. Those are the areas the Ukrainian government will share its expertise and also learn from other participants.