Japan rose from the ashes, is keen to help Kenya thrive too

Kenya-Japan relations have largely been centred on trade, culture, education and development. However, Ambassador Toshitsugu Uesawa says his main purpose is to promote friendship between the two countries, a principle which drove him to go to great lengths to promote local tourism.

He spoke to the Star about this and other elements of the bilateral relations.


Q1: You were recently in the news following your climb of Mt Kenya. What drove you to hike it and how did it feel to reach the peak?

A: Thirty-five years ago, I lived in Kenya for two years during my tour of duty as a young diplomat. My daughter, who was living with me as a young child at the time, now has a family of her own. I am a grandpa to a beautiful granddaughter.

In May last year, I returned to Kenya to serve in my current capacity as the Ambassador of Japan to Kenya, and since then, wherever I have visited, I have received overwhelming support and warm hospitality from the people of Kenya.

As a result, I always felt I had to do something in return, to show my appreciation. Therefore, I was determined to climb Mount Kenya to show my appreciation for the beautiful and scenic landscapes of Kenya and promote the tourism industry.

My journey was published in the some of the local newspapers. In the article, I gave a vivid account of my experience when I reached the summit and witnessed the beauty of the rising sun surrounded by a sea of clouds, which provided a breathtakingly beautiful scene. I also expressed my gratitude to the friendly Kenyan guides who supported us throughout our journey.


Q2: Japan’s development assistance to Kenya includes sharing cutting-edge technology. What informs this aid?

A: Japan was burnt to the ground in World War II. After the war, Japanese people worked vigorously to reconstruct our nation. Although the devastation caused hunger, illness and extreme poverty, the people dedicated the little they had to educating and supporting our children to build the future of our nation.

As a result, Japan succeeded in achieving astoundingly rapid economic recovery and modernisation, as well as in preserving the traditional values where personal fulfillment came from close association with others, where respect for others is deeply ingrained into all segments of society.

I feel as though such values are also translated into the design of Japan’s quality infrastructure projects, which have direct impact on the people and the society at large. Japan’s quality infrastructure projects do not only ensure that things work properly in having lasting economic, social and environmental impact for its people, but also are built with the firm principle of the “others,” in consideration of people who use it.

If you look at the construction of Ngong Road, it is not just a road but a showcase of a people-centered infrastructure. In addition to the construction of durable roads that sustain traffic, a people-friendly spatial environment is created for pedestrians. Japan’s road safety features were also introduced, such as rainwater drainage system, streetlights and road surface markings, together with reflective and solar-powered safety devices.


Q3: One highlight of the Kenya-Japan bilateral relations is the Ticad VI Summit in Nairobi last August, a first in Africa. What are the tenets of this partnership?

A: Since the inception of the Tokyo International Conference on African Development (Ticad) framework in 1993, African nations have always been at the forefront in fostering international discussion on Africa’s development. In fact, Ticad became the philosophical foundation of the New Partnership for Africa’s Development (Nepad), which is the first comprehensive development plan created by Africans themselves. Furthermore, Japan was the first country to make an outreach to the African nations by inviting African Heads of States to the G7 Summit to promote dialogue on African development.

One of the core competences of Ticad is its innovative approach in advocating for African ownership and international partnership. Ticad is an inclusive platform, where global development actors, such as international organisations, donor countries, developing countries in Asia, the private sector and civil society organisations also take part in the discussions.

Ticad is not a platform where money is dispersed to exploit African countries. Rather, it is an inclusive platform, where international discussions on Africa’s development and future are led by African nations themselves with pride and dignity.

Another core competence of Japanese cooperation is transparency. In the Ticad process, Japan established follow-up mechanisms. For example, pledges are announced at the summit-level meetings and the status of their implementations is confirmed at the ministerial meetings and disclosed to the public through the website. African countries have greatly acclaimed the steady assistance extended by Japan, a country that keeps its promises.


Q4: The Dongo Kundu Special Economic Zone project was declared one of the tangible outcomes of the Ticad conference. What does it aim to achieve?

A: For over 36 years, Japan has been at the forefront in working with Kenya on the Olkaria project to ensure affordable, reliable, sustainable and renewable energy. 

It goes without saying, as in the Swahili proverb, ‘Chema chajiuza’. The first turbine that was commissioned by Japan in 1981 is still efficiently in operation. There is no need to make a sales pitch about the quality of infrastructure Japan provides. Japan is a global leader in innovation of low-carbon technology. It takes pride in its craftsmanship as well as in the high quality of its development assistance programme.

One example of where Japanese craftsmanship and technology framework are consolidated into one is the Mombasa coastal area development, including the Mombasa Dongo Kundu SEZ Project.

Japan has been working with Kenya in the development of Mombasa and the coastal region for a long time. Japan first supported the construction and expansion of the Mombasa International Airport in the 1970s and later in the 1990s. Nyali, Mtwapa, Kilifi and Sabaki bridges were also constructed in linking Mombasa with the coastal region to promote socioeconomic development.

Japan’s development assistance is not about selling Japanese products or extracting natural resources, but rather about creating an environment that is conducive to inclusive sustainable development that can promote the local economy. Such interventions incorporate power and water supplies to ensure an integrated approach to development.

It goes without saying that the Port of Mombasa will become the largest commercial port in Africa. The port will serve as the gateway to East Africa, and Kenya’s prosperity will have a spillover effect to its neighbouring countries, such as Uganda, Tanzania, South Sudan and beyond. The project will also generate 27,100 jobs in Kenya.

Projects that just make money do not have great significance. What is most important for these projects is to generate business and employment opportunities in having a positive economic impact to all Kenyan citizens. That is the underlying principle of Japan’s development assistance: to improve the lives of the people and communities towards an inclusive and sustainable future.


Q5: When your current tour of duty ends, as Ambassador, what is your biggest target that you would hope to accomplish in improving the Japan-Kenya relations?

A: It is important to have economic development with win-win relations between Kenya and Japan. Besides this, Japan is also truly aiming for a relationship based on mutual respect and trust.

Kenya is well known for its great marathon runners. Did you know that many of the Kenyan marathon gold medalists trained at high schools and universities in Japan? These top runners, including the gold medalists, say that it’s not only technology but rather Japanese discipline that made them top runners. I am always very happy whenever I hear that statement.

I have realised that my mission as an ambassador is to continue to grow and nurture the existing friendship. I cannot accomplish this mission on my own. My successor and his successor and so on, need to continue making the same effort. This is my purpose as ambassador of Japan to Kenya — to promote friendship between Japan and Kenya.

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