Date: 24 Jan 2007
Speaker: Secretary-General Don McKinnon
Location: Nairobi, Kenya
Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen, and thank you for this kind invitation.
I confess: there is a certain unreality about my foreign visits, in Kenya or anywhere. On the one hand, I’m very privileged in those I meet….
I meet Presidents and Prime Ministers: today and tomorrow I shall meet President Kibaki and Foreign Minister Tuju.
I meet business leaders such as yourselves. I know full well the quality of people in this room; and I know, too, how many of you came to London in December and organised an extremely successful conference – with Commonwealth Secretariat help, I should add – to get the Kenyan diaspora to invest back home.
My breakfast radio only a week ago carried a feature on the buzzing of the Kenyan stock exchange, the flotation of several local companies, and ordinary Kenyans’ increasing desire to have a slice of the action by becoming shareholders. That concept, of course, is your inspiration here at Equity Bank, with over a million Kenyan small savers – many small-scale farmers and business-people, often one- or two-man bands.
And then this afternoon I shall meet some of those who will rise as the stars of the next generation of Kenyans, at the Alliance Boys and Girls High School.
And yet…on the other hand…
I drive past the slums of Kibera. I know Kenya’s statistics: life expectancy for men and women in the mid-40s; a primary school enrolment rate of only 75%, despite the government’s offering to pay the fees; 60% of the population living on less than $2 a day, 6% of the adult population – over a million people – carrying the HIV virus.
I spoke at a London conference on corruption last year, and it won’t surprise you to know that the words KACC, Githongo, Anglo-Leasing, Goldenburg, even Wolfowitz, Benn, Howells and Clay – they were repeated many times. They resonate far beyond this city of Nairobi. We read your headlines. Indeed last year I went as far as writing to the President expressing my dismay at one particular headline about headlines themselves – when The Standard and KTN-TV were raided by the police last March.
As with Kenya, as with many others on the continent of Africa and elsewhere: this is a land of contrasts, where the good news jostles with the bad. But I am here with good news, because a lot of good news is coming out of this country.
In my few minutes with you today, I want to zoom out and then zoom in, with four very quick topics – the Commonwealth at large, the Commonwealth and Africa, the Commonwealth and Kenya, and finally the Commonwealth and you, the Kenyan business community.
First, then, the Commonwealth at large.
You in the Kenyan business community are by nature internationalists in your outlook. So I say, let part of that outlook be a Commonwealth one. You are part of a 53-nation family comprising one third of humanity, a quarter of the world’s countries, and a fifth of its trade. Rich, poor. Young, old. Skins of every colour. Christian, Muslim, Hindu. African, Asian, Pacific, Caribbean, European. All that, and more, finds a home in the Commonwealth.
What grew out of an Empire is now the world’s second largest grouping of nations, freely and equally associated, bound by common principles first stated and agreed in Singapore in 1971. People sometimes still call it the British Commonwealth. I respond that they can as easily call it the Kenyan Commonwealth.
This Commonwealth of ours has come to have an extremely powerful voice in defending democracy and promoting development in poorer and above all smaller countries. (Remember: two-thirds of our member countries have populations of less than 1.5 million.)
The majority of people know us for two things. First, for the Commonwealth Games, ‘the Friendly Games’. Second, for the fact that we take our beliefs to their logical conclusion and we don’t hesitate to suspend those members who flout them. We did it several years ago in Nigeria, later on in Pakistan, and only last December with Fiji.
In those two things and far, far beyond them, a picture emerges: one of the oldest surviving international organizations remains true to its values and goals, and to the people it serves. So today I urge you to view yourselves as Commonwealth citizens, and see all the shared beliefs and benefits that that brings.
Second, the Commonwealth and Africa.
18 of our members are on this continent. No organization did more to promote the independence of African countries than the Commonwealth, whose membership grew so fast from 8 countries in 1949. No organization did more to help dismantle apartheid in South Africa: 20 years ago, a Commonwealth Eminent Persons Group was shuttling from Pretoria to Robben Island to help bring democratic freedom to that country. The largest Commonwealth observer team ever assembled was at the South African elections of 1994: South Africa came straight back into the Commonwealth the same year, and assumed the two-year chairmanship in 1999.
The Commonwealth is everywhere in Africa.
Politically, some of that support is very high profile – not least in the way that Nigeria was suspended in 1995 under General Abacha, and not only welcomed back into the fold in 1999, but nurtured back to full democracy. This was done largely through our role in supporting two successful elections, and the democratic institutions and practices behind them.
Similarly with Sierra Leone, suspended and safely returned, and with The Gambia, which was never suspended, but remained under the close scrutiny of CMAG for quite some time. We had less success, as you know, with Zimbabwe, which took itself out of the Commonwealth after we had been heavily critical of its 2000 and 2002 elections, and kept it under suspension for over a year.
Other political work is less high profile but no less important, and much of it happens as the discreet, behind-the-scenes work of the Trusted Partner, in the form of my Special Envoys and so-called ‘Good Offices’. So perhaps you know that the Commonwealth brokered the ‘Mfwaka’ (Accord) between Tanzania and Zanzibar in both 1995 and 2000; and that last year we helped to develop the first ever Constitution for Swaziland, after 39 years of rule by royal decree.
The result, as I never tire of saying, is that Commonwealth Africa is in pretty good shape. 11 Commonwealth African countries have made the transition to multi-party democracy over the last 15 years. There have been six Presidential elections in Commonwealth Africa in the last 18 months, in which four Presidents were returned to power (Seychelles, Gambia, Zambia and - for the first time - a multi-party Uganda); one party was returned to power with a new President (Tanzania); and power changed hands across parties in one country (Mauritius). Almost as recently, new Presidents have been elected in Mozambique, Malawi and Namibia.
All of the elections were peaceful; all were judged free, fair and credible – if never quite perfect. It’s the essence of democracy that ‘life goes on’ whether a government is returned or replaced. And in Commonwealth Africa it has done.
But democracy has to have its dividends, in the form of economic and social development. Here, Africa again presents its contrasts. It is the continent of horrendous statistics, too many conflicts, and Millennium Development Goals passing by. It’s also the continent of greatly improved governance and fast-rising economic performance. A conference in London I attended recently was unequivocal: Africa is the place to invest.
So the Commonwealth is all over Africa trying to ensure that Africa continues as a place of growth. We are arguing Africa’s case in the Doha Development Round and in negotiating Economic Partnership Agreements with the EU. We are channeling some $186 million worth of private investment into Africa through the Commonwealth Private Investment Initiative. As the ‘parents’ of the very idea of debt relief, we are now helping countries manage their national debt. We are training and strengthening national administrations; and working with individual ministries on their health and education programmes.
I can’t begin to do justice to the myriad ways in which the Commonwealth is involved in Africa – with its 18 members, and also with the African Union, NEPAD and the Peer Review Mechanism. This continent receives nearly 50% of what we spend worldwide in technical assistance for social and economic development.
The Commonwealth needs Africa, and Africa needs the Commonwealth.
Third, the Commonwealth and Kenya.
Our political dialogue here is intense – this is my 5th visit in seven years; my principal advisor Professor Adefuye here is probably on more like his 25th …. And we two are just the tip of an iceberg. Many of the Commonwealth people on the ground here are world experts in their fields.
My Special Envoy in this country, the Nigerian Professor Adebayo Adedeji, has all the stature of a former United Nations Under-Secretary General and Head of the UN Economic Commission for Africa. He has been instrumental in the quiet diplomacy of bringing about dialogue between political parties in this country.
Our dialogue is fruitful. The Commonwealth observed the 1992, 1997 and 2002 elections here. At the last elections, when President Kibaki came to power, we made a series of recommendations as to how we felt they could have been better. Better voter registration through more continuous voter registration; training for electoral commission staff. Both are now happening. Indeed, under the leadership of Dr Sam Kivuitu the Electoral Commission of Kenya has been a model for the rest of the continent and we have drawn extensively on its expertise in strengthening electoral institutions in Africa.
We have been keen observers of the debate on a new Kenyan Constitution, for almost a decade now. Behind the scenes, we have encouraged the building of consensus on its more contentious issues. We observed the 2005 election when the Constitution was given such a rough ride. Since then we have kept in touch with Ambassador Kiplagat, although for obvious reasons we now find that the race for State House in Nairobi now takes precedence. Building consensus involves everyone: I stress that public education and involvement is a vital ingredient in this country in deciding how it should be governed.
Meanwhile Kenya was a ready host and ally when in April 2005 we launched the Commonwealth Latimer House Principles on the relationship between the three branches of government: the legislature, the executive, the judiciary. All 18 Commonwealth African countries were represented at that event here in Nairobi.
Beyond politics and governance, in the last 5 years we have put some 175 million Kenyan shillings into development programmes in Kenya. Some 400 Kenyan individuals have been given new skills to implement new policy. We have just signed a new agreement to work alongside the UNDP. So, right now, we are doing things as diverse as helping Kenya manage its debt portfolio, helping determine the limits of your maritime borders, working out to how to improve goods clearance with the Kenya Port Authority, attracting investment for your mining industry, helping a small group of farmers in Maragua in dairy production, assisting your people in combating terrorism, training the KACC in anti-corruption….
On top of this, previous projects have spanned everything from training rural women in using computers and handloom weaving, to staking out Kenya’s fishing rights in the Indian Ocean.
I hope you get a clear picture of the sheer variety of the Commonwealth’s work in Kenya – and the way it influences policy and best practice at the top of the chain, and ordinary peoples’ lives at the bottom. My point is, that in matters political, economic and social, the Commonwealth and Kenya work together.
Which brings me, fourthly and finally, to the Commonwealth and you, the business community.
Here, I argue that we help you ‘by association’. Your successes are largely your own, and they are facilitated by your government. Some of our technical assistance projects are for your direct benefit; some of our Commonwealth funds reach you.
But in three important ways, we in the Commonwealth are trying to help create the environment in which you in the Kenyan business community can actually go about your business.
First, as I mentioned briefly, in our anti-corruption training for the KACC.
Never mind the gossip, the names, or the fact that anyone can point fingers. Please note: I make no distinctions between the Githongo report in Kenya and the alleged cash for peerages affair in the UK. On any day of the week I can unearth stories of corrupt people at the very top of governments, almost anywhere in the Commonwealth and beyond: The fact is, corruption is corrosive… it’s a cancer … a killer. And whenever it occurs it becomes a cost on ordinary people.
Whether it’s the first customs official you meet at an airport demanding a bribe, or a government minister hiving off millions, it tears at the very fabric of any society.
Corruption is Public Enemy Number One to the two things we hold dearest in the Commonwealth: Democracy and Development. As ever, it tends to be the poor who suffer most: it leads to children without adequate schooling, and to people of all ages without adequate healthcare. It distorts competition and investment; it’s an impediment to free and fair trade. It puts up the price of everything. It undermines the democratic and moral standards which underpin the way in which we conduct our lives.
Much of our work revolves around supporting the ‘UN Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)’. Signing it is one thing; ratifying it another; and implementing and believing it the real challenge.
Second, as I mentioned, in our support for Kenya and for Africa in the Doha Round.
Our interests are that our developing country members can trade their way out of poverty – freely and fairly. ‘Free’ and ‘fair’ can go together: our so-called ‘Aid for Trade’ proposals involve the best use of concessions, training, new legislative frameworks and diversification of economic activities. All of these can build the capacity of poorer countries to compete more effectively in the global trade system.
A failure of world trade talks and a retreat into bilateral or regional trade deals is not the solution, and it is not in your best interests. We will continue to use our Commonwealth membership – comprising the richest and poorest, the so-called villains and heroes – to press your case.
Third, as I have also mentioned, in our support for democracy in this country….
The same ‘Democracy’ than means ‘Development’, because it creates confidence in investors – people who think it’s worthwhile to put their money into a place. First and foremost, as I said when I mentioned the Grameen Bank, you have to get your own people to invest in your own country. The awful fact is that 60% of this continent’s earnings go outside Africa – to UK banks, Swiss banks, anywhere but here. Local and foreign investors all ask themselves whether the potential recipient of their money is politically stable and predictable.
And what defines that? Above all, it is faith in your democratic institutions. Because we know democracy first by its forms - like free and fair elections; a parliament, a judiciary and an executive which are apart but work together; apolitical armed forces and police; an independent and responsible media; a lively civil society. So, too, we know it when there is a real culture of democracy … of citizens having a say in how they are governed, and of accountability on the part of those who govern. And it’s as much a Nairobi as a Westminster model.
Not a single country in the Commonwealth can safely say that it is the perfect democracy. All of us – my own country New Zealand, the UK, the world’s largest democracy India or tiny Tuvalu in the Pacific – are on a journey, but it’s a journey well worth making, not least if you believe in economic progress.
Our belief in democracy is why we are supporting you in your political process and your elections. And Kenya’ belief in democracy is why it allows us to help – and part of its faith in the Commonwealth. Our work is laying the turf on which people like you can sow the seeds of Kenya’s economic development, for the benefit of Kenya’s people. Thank you.
Download the speech: Speech to Kenyan Business Community