Kenya avoided post-election violence and is now facing new beginnings

According to Ambassador of Finland to Nairobi Pirkka Tapiola, Kenya is leading the way for economic and regional development in Eastern Africa. Kenya is now on the brink of new beginnings after presidential elections that were exceptionally peaceful.

Ambassador Pirkka Tapiola says that Kenya is leading the way to future for the entire Eastern Africa. He loves Kenya’s beautiful nature. Photograph: Olga Shumylo-Tapiola

How would you describe the current situation in Kenya?

Kenya is on the brink of new beginnings after presidential elections that were exceptionally peaceful. The election results were extremely tight, and the losing candidate, veteran politician Raila Odinga, filed a case with the Supreme Court to challenge the result. In its well-reasoned ruling, the Court held that there was no evidence of fraud and confirmed the election results. The Kenyans accepted the elections outcome, and there was no post-election violence that has often before marred elections in Kenya.

Therefore, the elections can be seen as a victory for the country’s institutions, which is a good sign for Kenyan democracy.

At the same time, the country is facing a set of serious challenges. In their daily lives, Kenyans are feeling the effects of the surging food and fuel prices that are largely the result from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Daily life is also affected by a severe drought in a large part of the country and by negative effects of climate change. Drought has driven the neighbouring Somalia to the brink of famine, and the food security situation is precarious across the Horn of Africa.

Russia is taking advantage of the crisis and falsely blaming the West and its sanctions against Russia for the global misery it has itself caused.

How is Finland cooperating with Kenya?

Finland’s first priority in the development cooperation with Kenya is to support the rights of women and girls and to prevent gender-based violence, in particular. We are carrying out a project together with UN Women that focuses on the rights and status of women. In addition, we have a project with the Kenyan administration on preventing gender-based violence. At the regional level, the project cooperates with the Kenyan Red Cross, too.

We are working through the UN Development Programme (UNDP) to support a project to decentralise the Kenyan administration.

Our second priority is to promote the skills and employment of young people. Here the focus is on reforming the Kenyan vocational education and training system and on supporting the provision of high-quality teaching. Key focus areas in vocational education and training are practical skills needed at work and professional qualifications.

How do you see the future of Kenya?

Kenya is the most powerful democracy and the economic driver in Eastern Africa. Kenya has a pro-West administration, and there are long traditions of market economy here. The population is young. Unemployment among young people is high, and there is not work for everyone, although the country is already in the lower-middle income category. This is a great challenge for the future.

What has uplifted you personally in Kenya?

Diversity and the beauty of nature. My diplomatic career started around Eastern Europe and Asia, and for a long time I served as Head of the EU Delegation in these regions in two different positions.

Taking up the duties of Finland’s Ambassador in Nairobi has literally meant a leap to a new continent. Diversity has been an inspiration for me in Kenya, and even beyond its borders.

In addition to Kenya, I am serving as a non-resident Ambassador to Eritrea, Seychelles, Somalia and Uganda. The diversity of Eastern Africa has come as a welcome surprise.

What can we learn from Kenyans?

I am fairly conscientious and a stickler when it comes to timekeeping. My sense of time is often quite different from the Kenyan sense of time. Kenyans are much more relaxed about many things; they have a relaxed attitude towards themselves and others. We could learn from that relaxed outlook of Kenyans.

In this series of articles, Finland’s ambassadors tell news from countries that are key partners of Finland’s development cooperation.

Text: Karoliina Romanoff