Speech delivered by President Kenyatta at Chatham House in full

Kenya's priorities for inclusive growth: Towards domestic development and regional peace.

Uhuru Kenyatta at Chatham House
President Kenyatta speaking at Chatham House. Photo: Twitter/UKenyatta

Thank you.  It is a pleasure to join you this evening.  I am honoured by your invitation.

We live in tumultuous times.  Change has become more rapid than it has ever been in human history.  Everywhere, the political certainties of yesterday are giving way to new insecurities largely driven by a powerful and borderless information age.  Voices that would have been judged extreme are finding their way to the centre of power and governance.  With both positive and very negative effects.

In a time like this, we leaders must seek stability while at the same time undertaking ambitious efforts to shape a future that responds to the needs of our people. That is the challenge of governing today, on every continent.  To know what needs stabilizing, and what must be changed.

Nearly seventy years ago, Harold Macmillan famously spoke of a wind of change blowing right across Africa.  The time for change had come; there was little that could be done to stand in the way of freedom and independence.

We took our independence as a chance to shape a new destiny that would build a new nation, and deliver to its people health, education, and peace.

Kenya has grown into a democracy without peer in our region.  That has not been without its challenges — as I’m sure the evening news here has had occasion to remind you.

We have also developed the most diverse and most vibrant economy in our region.

Throughout these decades of building, reforming and growing, the United Kingdom has been an ally and a business partner.  We have worked together to bring peace and stability to a troubled region.  We have defended freedom and democracy together from the extremists who employ terrorism to undermine our way of life.  Our people have traded with one another and invested in each other.

Our friendship is built on solid foundations and the decades of collaboration have only deepened it.  To take it to new heights however will require more than a celebration of the past.  We must better understand the winds of change sweeping across the world today, so that we can craft a partnership that it is fit for purpose.  One that can deliver more value and more relevance for Kenyan and British citizens who are demanding that we listen to them, and change with the times to serve them even better as governments and civil society.

Let me single out three areas that offer us opportunities for growth as partners.

The first is that our partnership needs to be aware of a new worldwide impatience with the compromise, the debate, and the respect for opposing views that democracy demands.  There is today a temptation for some in the mainstream governing parties to seek political advantage in extreme positions that erode unity, a sense of national purpose and paint compromise as betrayal.

They seek a permanently divided body politic, and non-stop political campaigning at the expense of countries doing the hard work of building prosperity.

I believe we need to face this tendency together. First by understanding that positive change is difficult to enact in a climate of permanent political instability. Yet knowing that stability should not itself be an excuse to remain rigid and resistant to change.

Mainstream politics, in Kenya, in Britain and everywhere else in the democratic world, must be responsive to the needs of the people.

My reaching out to the Hon Raila Odinga and the opposition must be seen in this context and not one of opening a new political front.  We cannot achieve the social and economic needs of our people in an environment of constant political bickering.  As much as political competition is an essential component of democracy.  Leadership on all sides of the political divide must rise above the noise and focus on the needs of the people.  That is the difference between the politics of democracy and mature democracies that can rise above competitive electoral politics to issue based politics that seek the enhancement of people’s lives and the long term peace, stability and prosperity of our nations.

Practically what this means is that together we must look to reinforce constructive voices that promote non-partisan or bipartisan solutions to our pressing problems.

There are too many risks and pitfalls in today’s world without us adding to them with meaningless political rhetoric.

The second area is to appreciate that democracy struggles to survive when it is surrounded by tyranny. Our friendship needs to respond to the enemies of democracy, rather than leave the battlefield and retreat behind walls. We have won victories together, disrupted and deterred multiple plots that would have killed many of our citizens.

We must continue to work together to defeat terrorist groups that threaten our people and our countries. Much more coordination and collaboration can be achieved.  But we must go even further.

The violence employed by terrorists is an extension of their ideas. They daily announce their intention to destroy democracy and usher in an age of fanaticism and religious tyranny.

We can do more to fight their ideas. Not only by denying them legitimacy and relevance but by advancing, together, a powerful vision of why democracy is the most effective and successful way to deliver better lives for our people.

We must make it harder for the anti-democratic, hate-filled fanatics who are organizing against liberty and trying to turn our citizens into hateful, violent extremists.

For this, we look to you to use your positions in forums such as the United Nations Security Council to advance a more powerful consensus beyond condemning terrorist violence and acting against religious and ethnic hatred and exclusivity.

We want to partner with you more closely in challenging social media companies to be as responsive to the extremist threats aimed at Kenya, as they are those targeting Europe.  Because we know that this disdain for our freedom by the extremists transcends all borders.

We can work together to build stronger initiatives to prevent recruitment into terrorism and to more effectively disengage and rehabilitate foreign terrorist fighters who have defected and returned home.

We must also act together to equip our people to counter the threats of weaponized information, which is now perhaps the most insidious tool of the new age.

I believe we can work even more closely to deny them space to operate in fragile states in the Horn of Africa.  To this end, I urge that we try even harder to destroy Al Shabaab as a military force in Somalia, while undermining and disrupting its propaganda wherever it is found.

Ladies and Gentlemen,

As potent a threat as terrorism is, it pales in comparison to the continuing poverty and joblessness in much of Africa.

As long as there is great poverty and desperation in Africa, and other parts of the world, African refugees will seek entry into Europe in their millions.  Your own politics will shift in response to that influx, and probably not for the better. This is one instance where cause and effect are inextricable.  Our poverty will lead to your instability.  As one of many African leaders with a burgeoning youthful population, I recognize that we must build a much stronger economy if we are to ensure that the blessing of our demographic dividend does not turn in to a curse.

Our youthful population must have access to economic opportunities that lift our country to greater heights and maintain our peace and unity.

The third area requiring our urgent collaboration, therefore, is in building prosperity that offers jobs and opportunity to our young people.  There is no more powerful engine for lifting millions out of poverty than entrepreneurship and trade.

London is the global centre of banking and investment; it is a city that urgently seeks out more investment opportunity and higher yields.  Kenya and East Africa is full of energetic and ambitious young people who can build goods and services for a rapidly growing middle class and population.  We need to do more to lower the cultural, bureaucratic and communication barriers to that investment.

You can do more to support British investors making bets on big opportunities in Kenya.  You can make it easier for Kenyan businesspeople to travel to the UK.  You can be ambitious in crafting a trade deal with Kenya that will be a shining example to the rest of the Commonwealth and the world.  We will walk with you each step of the way.  On our part, as Kenya, we can do much more to lower the barriers to investment at scale.  You will have noted that we made aggressive reforms in the ease of doing business during my first term.  We will do even more.

Our infrastructure will be ready for investors and sharply increased trade.  There are big opportunities for the private sector to deliver solutions in my administration’s Big Four plan to transform Kenya’s agriculture, healthcare, manufacturing and affordable housing.

The Kenyan and British people are marked by their pragmatism.  We must marry that sense of practicality to ambition, optimism and courage to embrace the future that is already here to deliver success in the three areas I have outlined.

I look forward to the conversations and debates to come, and, most of all, to the mighty works that we will build together.

Thank you.

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