May 18, 2021
His Excellency Uhuru Kenyatta
President, Republic of Kenya
Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs, U.S. Chamber of Commerce
In 2020, the novel coronavirus’s simultaneous impact on public health and the economy has overwhelmed the United States and countries around the world. In pursuit of understanding and working toward global economic recovery, the U.S. Chamber of Commerce hosted its inaugural Global Forum on Economic Recovery.
To better understand the current state and future of the Republic of Kenya, the Chamber’s Executive Vice President and Head of International Affairs Myron Brilliant spoke with President Uhuru Kenyatta. The president discussed the country’s coronavirus response, its sustainability efforts, and the importance of free trade and the private sector to economic growth.
Kenya’s Swift Response to the Pandemic: “Lives Mattered Over Economy”
At the onset of the pandemic, the South African region managed to successfully limit the viral spread and the loss of lives in comparison to other regions.
“When we realized that this was a global threat, we took immediate steps in terms of lockdown way back there in early March 2020,” Kenyatta recalled. “We proceeded to close our borders, to close our schools, to close off places of worship.”
“The measures that we took very early came at a huge and tremendous cost to our economy,” the president admitted. “But at the end of the day ... lives mattered over the economy. We can always rebuild an economy, but we can never bring back a life.”
Kenyatta added that the largest current obstacle to full health and economic recovery is vaccine availability — a rate that is alarmingly low in Africa.
“It is only when we properly vaccinate all our people that we can begin to get back to as near [to] normal as possible.”
Leveraging Technology and Green Energy for Sustainability in Agriculture and Beyond
In addition to managing the coronavirus, the global community is also facing the ever-present challenge of climate change. To this end, Kenya has prioritized using technology to combat climate change, particularly in the agricultural sector.
“We have been focusing [on] agriculture, technology, and how the two come together to help us also combat the issue of climate change,” explained Kenyatta.
The Republic has implemented mobile technology to provide farmers the information and tools they need to adopt more sustainable practices, including water conservation and green energy implementation.
“We have really focused on the use of green energy to power not only agriculture, but most of our industries,” the president said. “We now have almost 90% of our power coming from green sources.”
Opportunities in Free Trade and the Private Sector Will Bolster Kenya’s Economy
As of January 1, 2021, the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA) Agreement went into effect. According to Kenyatta, this trade agreement opens up huge opportunities for economic growth.
“I personally am very keen on seeing the arrangement between Kenya and the United States under the Free Trade Agreement, coming into force as two countries who .... understand and have similar and shared values,” Kenyatta said.
“One of the things that we have seen in Kenya is that we have this huge informal sector … these are the small, medium enterprises that are really the backbone of Kenya’s economy,” he added. “[And] America was built on the backs of small businesses across the United States.”
“I am very keen [on] linking those small businesses with their counterparts here in Kenya,” the president continued. “That is where the real opportunity lies.”